Rozka Gujjar is an uninhabited village, close to the sacred Mangar Bani grove on the outskirts of Faridabad. It is described as ‘be-chirag’ or without human habitation in revenue records and almost all of it consists of forested hills. In August Ashok Khemka, the then Director General Consolidation of Land holdings in Haryana, withdrew the scheme for consolidation of 5,744 acres here, on the grounds that the consolidation proceedings were initiated to benefit influential people with “black money” to enable them to corner prime chunks of land in areas where they have inside information of proposed development plans.
Land of this village has been brought under the Sohna Final Development Plan 2031, (a suburban township of Gurgaon). It also falls in the Aravalli hills, categorized as ‘gair mumkin pahar’ (unfit for cultivation). The consolidation that began in 1991 was still in progress during which almost the entire area was purchased by “powerful business- politico- bureaucratic- police nexus with ostensibly no interest in agricultural activities.” Some land transactions, Mr. Khemka found, were benami, on behalf of companies owned by powerful politicians and bureaucrats – some of who were connected with the consolidation exercise.
He noticed a similar modus operandi in the nearby villages of Kot, (also cancelled) Baad Gujjar, Bandhwari and Anangpur, where consolidation of land holdings was used to benefit higher ups. The cancellation of Rozka Gujjar’s consolidation provides a glimpse of just how uncultivated, mainly forested land in prime locations is being acquired by big wigs.
Consolidation of land holdings is done to reverse fragmentation of land holdings for betterment of agricultural efficiency, as also to reserve areas for common village purpose. It involves first the pooling of agricultural holdings fragmented over generations of inheritance and then re-partitioning the pooled land and allotting revenue numbers to the individual land holders.
In Rozka gujjar the entire 5744 acres was under a single ‘khewat’ or revenue number shared by over 1,000 co-owners. It is sparsely forested, denuded land used by villagers for grazing and firewood. Since there is no agricultural activity here and there is no fragment of land to consolidate, Khemka realized that consolidation was “merely a tool to partition” the land and enable it to be sold.
The single joint ‘khewat’ was divided into 640 accounts and individual khasra numbers allotted to them. He also noticed that a 44-ft wide road of 11 km length is proposed to be constructed at state expense from the Gurgaon- Faridabad main road to Damdama lake in the Aravalli foothills of which a length of 8 km falls in the village. “Any non-forest land abutting this proposed road would have a huge market value as compared to forest land or land which was under mining and if far from the road,” his order notes. So people who had bought cheap land in inferior areas were using their influence to exchange it for prime ‘khasras’ near the road. The valuation ratio too, he found, was grossly underestimated and disproportionate and designed to benefit higher-ups wanting land near the road.
He then recorded a departmental note recommending an independent investigation into the “real owners” of these lands and exclusion of ‘gair mumkin pahaar’ from consolidation. The scheme should only be for agriculture holdings, he said.
Khemka further observed, “Some senior public servants misused their position for a favourable exchange for themselves or their relatives or companies floated for this purpose. Huge investments of ill-gotten money have been made through companies in the purchase of land of some villages in Gurgaon and Faridabad districts to benefit from the consolidation scheme.”
In view of this he has recommended that a declaration of no conflict of interest should be made by all public servants involved in consolidation exercise. None of these suggestions have been accepted so far.
Says Chetan Agarwal an environmental analyst who participated in the fact finding exercise led by the former DC of Faridabad, “colonising the Aravallis is being attempted by subterfuge in the master plans, by privatising and partitioning the Aravallis, even as the Haryana government and the forest department are unwilling to identify the Aravalli deemed forests, including Mangar Bani, even 16 years after the 1996 SC judgement, which will prevent their exploitation.” Says Sarvdaman Oberoi of Mission Gurgaon Development that advocates sustainable development, “All kinds of methods are employed to acquire and build in this fragile Aravalli area. The Haryana government seems paralysed, hamstrung by the blatant violation of environmental laws if it goes ahead, and the potential windfall gains that will not accrue to connected parties if it doesn’t.”
In Mangar, closer to the Gurgaon Faridabad road, two prominent farmhouses have come up in the last couple of years. One of them is a resort owned by the Kalakar Trust run by the wife of a senior Congress leader and the other is ostensibly a media centre established by a top journalist. At other places the beginnings of development can be seen in the form of fenced in plots. “Sometimes, we find people trying to construct farmhouses inside the pristine forests of the sacred Bani too and when that happens the people react very strongly and we have managed to stall any construction there so far,” he says.
A proposal for protecting the ‘gair mumkin pahaar’ of Mangar village by bringing it under Section 4 and 5 of the PLPA is pending with the forest department. But now the Mangar Master Plan has designated even sacred Bani as agricultural zone and one big realtor is believed to have bought up to 400 acres there.