With environmentalists raising the issue of conservation of Mangar forest, the last natural forest near Delhi, it is learnt that the Prime Minister’s Office had shot off a letter to the Ministry of Urban Development that the revised regional plan of the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) and Sub-Regional Plan of Haryana, which proposed to promote tourism and construction in the area, be not approved without taking the views of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

It was learnt through a Right To Information reply filed by activist Rohit Choudhury that on March 5, the PMO had written to the Urban Development Ministry referring to media reports about allowing tourism in the Aravallis and lifting the cap on construction limit in the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ).

“...the Ministry [of Urban Development] may first obtain views/ comments of the MoEF on the proposed changes in the Regional Plan 2021, the proposed regional plan of Haryana and the proposal for inclusion of Mangar Bani in conservation zone. After obtaining MoEF's views/ comments, the Ministry may apprise this office with their views/ comments,” the PMO office had said in its letter in March.

“The Ministry may please ensure that the NCRPB does not finalise the above changes until a final view is taken on the matter.” The RTI reply revealed that the PMO had written to the Government of Haryana, the MoEF and the NCRPB had in January, calling comments from them and specified action needed in the form of notifying a conservation reserve with community management, and offering an exit clause to private land owners to sell the land to government for a modest financial return. It also proposed that MoEF extend the 1992 Aravalli notification to Faridabad district, as it is currently limited to Gurgaon district. The PMO had also called for initiating steps for creating an eco-sensitive zone for Asola buffer on Haryana side and to treat all of the Aravallis in Haryana as deemed forest as per Supreme Court judgments.

Incidentally, some of the villagers in Mangar forest have been resisting the move and they had a couple of months ago also attacked some tourists, as they did not want tourism to get promote in their area. As regards the NCR Planning Board, the note asked it to retain protective regulation in the regional plan 2021 – especially 0.5 per cent limit on construction in the Natural Conservation Zone and zone Aravallis as permanent forest conservation and water recharge zone in which no construction, boundary walls are allowed. In February, the PMO again wrote to the Haryana Government and the NCRPB asking them to expedite their comments.

Mangar forest or Mangar Bani is a chunk of Aravallis protected by locals for years now and is known to be the habitat of leopards, nilgai, etc. In 2005, Regional Plan-2021 was implemented declaring it natural conservation zone with 0.5 per cent restriction on construction etc. In 2012, NCRPB revised the plan and issued it for public comments in July 2013. After a planning committee meeting, the proposed plan was approved in January. The revised plan allowed tourism in natural conservation zone, and the term “forest” was replaced with “green cover” allowing developers to bypass the Forest Conservation Act.

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