With passing of new Bill, large parts of Aravalli forest face survival threat

Gurugram: The Haryana government on Wednesday passed the amendment in the Punjab Land and Preservation Act, a law that was drafted by the British in 1900. With the change in the law, it is now being feared that large areas of Aravalli forest that were earlier protected for years now face the risk of being used up for development purposes.

Defending the amendment was no less than Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar who spoke in the assembly reasoning out that why the amendment was needed. The Chief Minister stated that even though the protection of forests was his government's priority, the present scenario also required changes to be done especially at a time when the state had to progress ahead.

The Chief Minister recommended that farmland and infrastructure land that earlier remained protected will be taken out of the purview of the old law. The Chief Minister also affirmed that he has made sure that areas around the Mangar Bani have been protected.

"The PLPA was drafted in 1900. Today it is 2019. It is important to make changes. Today because of the rapid urbanisation most of the areas have been developed around the Aravallis. We have to also take cognisance of how this development also has to co-exist," said Chief Minister Khattar.

Amid charges of the opposition that the bill was being passed hurriedly due to the pressure of the builder lobby, the Chief Minister reasoned by saying that these allegations were made without any facts. Citing the dangers of the amended bill, the environmentalists cite that now there will be a blanket exclusion of Aravallis around the urban areas. Moreover, it has been claimed that the bill will be passed with retrospective effect of 1966.

Hundreds of activists have been protesting over the amendment of the PLPA act by the Haryana government. "The amendment of PLPA is the worse possible news for Haryana, a state that has the lowest forest cover in the country. Aravallis are the state lungs. Acquiring forest land in the name of development is not progress. Real progress and nature and human can co-exist together," Puneeta Khanna.

The 118-year-old Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) of 1900 is meant to protect areas 'not notified' under the Indian Forest Act as the reserve or protected forests in the states of Haryana and Punjab. In Haryana, the PLPA extends protection to forests and trees on private lands, community lands, panchayat and municipal lands in the uncultivable hills of the Aravallis in the south and Shiwaliks in the northern parts of the state.

Forest areas notified as per special orders under the PLPA in Haryana amount to 75,000 acres or 33 per cent of the effective forest land in the state. These Aravalli areas notified under PLPA have been treated as forests following Supreme Court judgements in 2002 and 2004, reiterated in 2008 and 2009 (MC Mehta case), and again clarified in 2018 (Kant Enclave matter). The 20-30-year-old notifications are usually renewed on expiry. Interestingly Gurugram district has 16,930 acres of Aravalli forests notified under PLPA in 38 villages. Notifications in 36 villages have expired.

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