Amid reports that Haryana Governor Satyadev Narayan Arya has given his consent to the amendment in the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, despite reservations expressed by the Supreme Court, a group of people, including filmmakers, photographers, MNC employees and students, led by environmentalists, took a tour of a few villages along Gurugram-Faridabad Road on Sunday to see the extent of illegal construction on forest land and understand the implications of the amendment for the region.
The group were aghast to find how farmhouses, banquet halls and even ashrams had come up on the land preserved under the PLPA, 1900, in flagrant violation of the law in Faridabad’s Ankheer, one of the villages they visited. However, what shocked them the most was that the plots with illegal constructions belonged to a former Haryana government Minister; senior, serving and retired bureaucrats; and even the relatives of Members of Parliament.
“The extent of illegal construction and the involvement of the bureaucrats, politicians and even judicial officials hint at the nexus. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand why the government wants to bring the amendments,” said Puja Ahmed, senior marketing manager, American Express.
Ms. Ahmed had come to live in Gurugram five years ago, but it was recently during conversation with her activist friend Roma, a Nirvana Country resident, that she learnt about the issues of waste management and the importance of Aravalis and decided to be part of the gang to visit the villages and get first-hand information. “The pace at which we are playing havoc with our environment, we cannot sustain for more than 50 years. I want to do my bit to protect the environment so that I can tell my 10-year-old daughter that I at least made an attempt,” said Ms. Ahmed, a Sector 47 resident.
Explaining the modus operandi of the violators, Vishnu, a local environment activist, said that the construction started in the guise of running a gaushala or building a temple to avoid complaints. “Most of these farmhouses have a couple of cows tied inside to make it look like a gaushala . Some have even built small temples,” said Mr. Vishnu. He told the visitors that the complaints were filed in a few cases, but were either withdrawn or action was not taken.
He told the visitors how a banquet hall was issued a Change in Land Use certificate despite the dispute over the ownership hinting at the nexus between the officials and the violators.
Roma Jaswal Vinayak, an entrepreneur, suggested that a spree of complaints and cases be filed and fought through crowd-funding. Neelam Ahluwalia, a development sector professional, video-recorded the violations to share with her friends on the social media and create awareness on the matter.
Environment analyst Chetan Agarwal, who led the group, said that around 75,000 acre of forest land in Haryana was protected under the PLPA, including 60,000-odd acre in Aravalis. “Though the Haryana government stated that if the PLPA was not amended, it would necessitate large-scale demolition of houses and buildings, it is not true. For instance, Akhneer with around 15 illegal structures has only 10% of the PLPA land under illegal construction. It is even less in most of the other areas. It can be easily demolished. The amendment will actually throw open the majority of the Aravalis to real estate development causing havoc with the ecology and the environment,” cautioned Mr. Agarwal.
He also explained as to how the construction and demolition waste and the soil was deliberately dumped along the Gurugram-Faridabad Road to bring it at the level of the road and then encroach it to illegally run dhabas and wine shops. “It is done gradually without alarming the administration,” said Mr. Agarwal.
Sunil, an environment activist from Mangar village, showed to the group a plot measuring around 6 acres in his village with construction being carried out in violation of the law. Ms. Sunil told that the owner of the land had cleared the vegetation on it gradually over the past few years despite repeated complaints and now fenced the area. The land is protected under the PLPA. But if this owner succeeds in carrying out the construction, it will lead to more such constructions on the protected forest land,” said Mr. Sunil.
Delhi University’s students — Sudhir Yadav, Ayush Poddar and Anurag Singh — and young ecologist Misha, a member of Mangar Eco Club, were also part of the group. Filmmaker Chander Moli and his architect friend Anu Sachdeva, an amateur wildlife photographer, also accompanied the team members. They also visited Mewla Maharajpur village in Faridabad that has more than two dozen illegal constructions on PLPA protected land. “We need to create awareness and put pressure on the government to withdraw such laws. An ‘Awareness Walk’ will be organised next week,” said Ms. Ahluwalia, a development sector professional.