Large chunks of forests and the Aravalis in Gurugram and Faridabad could lose protection from construction under the National Conservation Zone as defined in the Regional Plan-2021, if the provisions in the Draft Regional Plan-2041 are implemented, fear environmentalists, urban planners and analysts.
According to the DRP- 2041, the ‘Natural Zone’ (NZ) “is a zone comprising any natural features such as mountains, hills, rivers, water bodies created by the action of nature.” In the previous Plan, this was defined as the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ). In the new draft, the definition ofthe natural features has been tweaked and restricted to only those that are notified under certain acts and recognised in land records.
Environmentalists are worried that this new definition would expel large sections of the forest land in Gurugram and Faridabad out of the ambit of protected zonefor not meeting the criteria proposed in DRP.
Most Aravali hill areas in Haryana are not notified but find a mention in the revenue records as ‘ gair mumkin pahar ’(uncultivable wasteland), and ‘bhood’ (sandy foothills), while the forest cover is neither notified nor mentioned as forest in the revenue record. Also, it is not clear whether rivers such as the Yamuna and Hindon, are notified and included in revenue records. Environmentalist Chetan Agarwal told The Hindu , such restrictive eligibility criterion would lead to the exclusion ofnatural features from the Natural Zone to the detriment of the region’s biodiversity. “This is in total contradiction to the objective of the Regional Plan and the National Capital Region Planning Board Act,” he said.
If the Haryana government succeeds in its plan to implement the amendments in the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), already passed by the State Legislative Assembly and ratified by Haryana Governor, then both Gurugram and Faridabad would suffer irretrievably.
“Of 74,000 hectares in Faridabad, only 11,700 ha is presently under the NCZ. If the PLPA amendment is cleared, only 178 hectares under the Reserve Forest category would qualify to be placed under the Natural Zone. It will be a similar situation in Gurugram too,” Mr. Agarwal warned.
In an email to the NCRPB, five urban planners and environment activists have raised objections to the Draft RP-2041, questioning the rationale behind it and the lack of clarity on the term “action of Nature”.
“What is meant by ‘action of Nature’ and what is the time period set for denotification?” asked Mr. Manoj Misra, retired Indian Forest Service officer. He said there were several examples of natural ecosystems created by the direct intervention of people or government, including wetlands under the Wetland Rules (such as Keoladeo National Park), greening and restoration of areas (the Aravalli biodiversity Park, Gurugram) and other afforestation zones. According to him, many natural areasare still in the process of being notified in land records as per observations of the Supreme Court in M.K. Balakrishnan versus Union of India in 2017.
The RP-2021 included rivers such as Yamuna, Ganga, Kali, Hindon and Sahibi; their tributaries, flood plains and flood prone areas in the NCZ but the draft RP-2041 excluded tributaries and flood plains from the newly defined NZ . The rivers, the tributaries and their flood plains are crucial for the water security and protection of the riverine floodplain habitat, which in turn is critical for protection of riverine biodiversity.
The environmentalists are also shocked by the replacement of the term NCZ, exclusion of terms “Aravali” and “forest areas” from NZ and the removal of 0.5% limit imposed on construction and land use under it.
“The deletion of Aravali from the new draft will facilitate construction of real estate in the Aravalis and destroy the natural ecosystem of the Aravalis in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan that shelter a critical wildlife habitat and corridor,” said Stalin Dayanand, Director of Mumbai-based NGO Vanashakti and one of the signatories to the e-mail.
The environmentalists want the RP-2041 to declare the 500 metres Mangar Bani sacred grove hill in Faridabadas “No construction” zone for its wildlife presence. Located on a narrow ridge, it is part of an important inter-state wildlife corridor with animals including leopards, hyenas, and foxes moving between the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi and Damdama lake catchment area in Gurgaon.
Another point of worry
Yet another point of worry is Section 6.3.3 of DRP-2041 which seeks “the interlinking of all green trails of the Aravali range and river Yamuna running in the region to become a part of integrated cycle trails and drive corridors in the region”.
It is feared that the provision of ‘drive corridors’ in the Aravalis will lead to motorised traffic and adversely impact the wildlife habitat. It could also open up the proposed construction of a road cutting through the Bio-Diversity Park in Gurugram, which the citizens are opposing.