NCR, especially the belt across and along Gurgaon and Faridabad prides itself on being located in the arms of the oldest plateau mountain range of India, Aravalli Hills. However, the news that green belt is depleting with pace has surely set a wave of shock among people. The reason being is urbanisation in the region. Authorities are planning to use the land for further developments. The landfill sites, residential and non-residential areas in the National Capital Region have experienced the growth of 34.6 percent from 1999 to 2012. Most of it has been possible at the cost of water bodies and green areas that have been depleted by 5.9 per cent and 22.5 per cent respectively.
Decrease in Green Area and Water Bodies
According to the information in the Draft Revised Regional Plan 2021, the area that has a major portion of development has seen a hike of 34.6 per cent as the figures show that the built-up area has increased from 2,76,566 hectare to 3,72,370 hectare. On the other hand, the agricultural area has gone down from 26,65,622 hectare to 26,45,022 hectare, while the water bodies and green area have decreased.
The area covered by water bodies has seen a drop of 5.9 percent which in accurate figures shows a decrease from 24,583 hectare to 23,119 hectare. Likewise, the green spaces have decreased from 1,45,453 hectare to 1,12,683 hectare which clearly indicates a drop by 22.5 per cent. Apart from that, the pieces of land that are waste including barren, saline land, river sand, etc., have also decreased from 2,91,931 hectare to 2,34,613 hectare. However, rest of the part that falls under “others” category has increased from 10,243 hectare to 26,590 hectare.
The conversion of such areas and water bodies including Yamuna riverbed and forest areas are being used for an increasing number of built up areas. Draft Revised Regional Plan 2021 states that ecosystem and land use are adversely being affected by such developments.
Environment Activists are not convinced
Environmentalists and urban planners arguably say that the Draft Revised Regional Plan 2021 has diluted the environmental safeguards for the crucial areas like Yamuna, Aravallis and many water bodies.
The Union Minister for Environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar conducted an aerial survey in June this year. The survey had covered the forest area in Mewat and Gurugram districts. Aravalli ranges do not cover a large area and have been recorded as ‘bhood’ and ‘gair mumkin pahar’ in the revenue record. It was notified back in June that if the proposal that mentions an increase in forest area from 10% to 30% is considered then the forest area of approx. 11,500 hectares in the NCR, most of it in the Aravalli ranges, could see a red signal if the draft prepared by the environment ministry for categorization of forests in the state is notified.
According to the details mentioned in FSI (Forest Survey of India), 2014, the states with forest ranges below than the national average i.e. 33%, should declare areas in the entire belt even if it covers crown density and scrub forests less than 1%, while the draft used currently does not have a mention about scrub forests.
Environmentalist Vivek Kamboj states “The new draft will affect the ongoing demarcation of the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ), especially the areas that have been put under ‘yet to be decided NCZ’ category”.
Green activists are against the decision to dilute the forest cover in the state. In a talk with a naturalist, he says “With the increase in crown density criteria, the Aravallis will be excluded from being declared as ‘forest’ and it will help the real estate lobby to grab land in the region”
In the month of September this year, green activists and environmentalists urged NCRPB (National Capital Region Planning Board) to not dilute the green area in Aravallis which is less than 4% in the state of Haryana. In a meeting where forest officials and urban development officials of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan were present, it was decided that sandy and non-cultivable areas will be covered in ecologically sensitive zones as Aravallis. Green activities are in support of the decision but at the same time while looking into the past records, they suspect NCRPB will not pass the proposal.
An environment analyst, Chetan Aggarwal says “The Haryana government has not implemented the Aravalli Notification of 1992. By now, they would have figured out what the Aravalli is and could have identified the forest region for demarcating Natural Conservation Zones (NCZs)”.
However, experts are not convinced as the government of the state simply ignored the provision of NCZ between the years 2005 and 2012 in the important master plans like Mangar Draft DP 2031 issued in 2012, GMUC 2025 issued in 2010, Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex (GMUC 2021) issued in 2007. Only recent plans including Sohna-Faridabad Development Plan (FDP) 2031, and the GMUC and FDP 2031 address Natural Conservation Zones.
In this regard, experts say that the government needs to take sincere steps to make people trust them and should not take steps that are good for only real estate body in the region. We need to preserve natural zones.
Activists also explain that in the duration between April month of 2014 and August month of 2016, they have made several attempts with new interpretations to include areas in NCZs.
An activist says that in a formal writing to the National Capital Region Planning Board by the Haryana Government, it was mentioned that the government does not know the definition of forest, Aravallis and groundwater recharge areas. He adds that the process of putting non-cultivated areas in forest category will be delayed due to the written move by the government.
Environmentalist Col (retd) Sarvadaman Oberoi says “The Haryana government has held for many decades that there is no deemed forest in the state as per its dictionary. When the government is still unclear about what constitutes a forest, how can they protect the Aravallis?
An NGO member, Jitender Bhadana explains “In 2013, the cap on construction in NCZs was omitted from the Draft Revised Regional Plan 2021 for NCR on the request of the Haryana government (as recorded in the minutes of the meeting of the Planning Committee meeting of the NCRPB in June 2013). The limit was restored in the next planning committee meeting, but an exception clause was added. It was only after the intervention of the MoEF in 2014 that Haryana finally agreed to retain the original formulation of 0.5% limit on construction in NCZs”
“The interest of the real estate stakeholders is the driving force behind attempts to dilute forest and NCZ demarcation of the Aravallis. Some of these stakeholders are already seeking licences to construct in the Aravalli hills and the only thing stopping them is the NCZ or forest tag,” says a legal activist.
Well a sigh of relief was given to the activists by the The Union Minister for environment, forest and climate change Prakash Javadekar who said that government will frame new policy to protect the Aravalli ranges. He assures “We will frame a comprehensive policy taking into account all previous judgments of the Supreme Court (SC) related to the issue of protecting the Aravallis. We plan to increase the ecological balance in the environment by protecting the Aravallis.”
“Scrub forests are excluded; sacred groves are excluded; and open forests are also sought to be excluded. Areas where revenue record of rights and cadastral maps are complete are also excluded… After all this, the MoEF minister is planning to frame the Aravallis protection policy. This is the audacity of the government” says Vivek Kamboj
The forest cover in the region is so little that the government of Haryana regardless the preciousness of the forest ranges is making attempts to declare the Aravallis a non-forest area. It is sad to say that the way government is thinking may lead to the depletion of the green patches we see from Delhi metro while entering Gurugram will be in memories. The forest that houses wolves, leapords, nilgais and other animals will not exist in future. Unfortunately, we have lost the value of nature and make attempts to dilute it in the name of urbanization.