Land dealers thrive where Aravalis should
The forest department on Wednesday removed a wall built illegally as part of a farmhouse in the Raisina area of Aravalis, the response coming after a media report on December 18 and another earlier in the month about a hillock being flattened in the same area, also to build a farmhouse.
But the big concern — sale and purchase of land in the area — remains.
“We inspected the construction site and demolished the wall. It had been there since 1990s, but an attempt was made to raise its height, which is not allowed. We’ve also issued an offence report and written to implementing agencies to clamp down on these activities,” said Deepak Nanda, district forest officer, Gurugram.
This was far from an isolated incident, though. Twenty-six years after the Aravali Notification came into force, the law is violated regularly in several places like Raisina, a settlement in the lap of a verdant stretch of the Aravalis, thanks to authorities still permitting sale and purchase of land there.
Media found that in Raisina alone, as many as 97 properties were registered by the revenue department in the last three years.
In the 1980s, over 1,200 acres was sold as farmhouses to 675 individuals by a private developer. They were bought by many influential, well-known personalities, including politicians and celebrities, army and government officials. In 1992, the Aravali Notification came into force, prohibiting any non-forest activity.
Nevertheless, sale and purchase of land in the area, where property dealers had sniffed a killing, continues till date. While some parts under sections 4 and 5 of Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) have been protected as forest, the rest of the land, classified under the general Section 4 of PLPA, can still be traded for agriculture and plantations.
The ambiguity over status of land has helped the land deals sail through. “The problem is some parts are marked as ‘gairmumkinpahar’ (uncultivable hill), whose land use category is yet to be decided by the government. That means the land is not under the forest department’s jurisdiction. The best way to stop illegal construction is to bring the land under notified forest. We wouldn’t allow anyone to cut a branch then,” said an official of the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB).
Lack of regular vigilance to ensure strict implementation of the Aravali Notification is also a factor. There is only one forest check post with one guard for the entire area straddling several villages, and a team of 3-4 HSPCB staffers to check violations.
The departments have taken action whenever violations have come to light but the proposal for an Aravali Taskforce — an exclusive team to check violations in Aravalis — has been gathering dust for two years. “Thanks to the forest department, there is some fear among encroachers. This, despite the fact that the department is always short-staffed,” said a villager, who works as an informer for the department.
Expressing helplessness, a senior forest official said, “First, we can’t demolish any illegal construction on land classified under general Section 4. We can only penalise owners if trees are felled. Second, the permission to sell or purchase land is still given, thereby allowing room for illegal constructions.”
Officials of HSPCB, which has issued several notices to farmhouse owners under Aravali Notification, said few have used the land for agriculture. “The whole purpose of the notification in Raisina was to prevent non-forest activity. But the government still allows registration of land falling under general Section 4 of for agricultural purposes, though I haven’t seen any agricultural activity. Owners just build boundary walls to evade prying eyes and go on to illegally build houses. It’s difficult to keep a check, as sale and purchase is still continuing,” said an HSPCB official.
Experts said the area is not fit for agriculture. “The topography of Aravalis is such that agriculture is possible only during rainy season, especially as the cultivable land is located at a height. The best way to revive the area is not agriculture, but reviving its green cover, ensure there is no interference in land use, and let it remain a natural forest,” said RajendraKushagra, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Amity University, Haryana.