The Haryana government has decided to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) in a move that could affect the Aravallis, catchments of the Badhkal, Surajkund and Damadama lakes, and other forest areas in a state which has the lowest forest cover (3.59%) in the country. However, the move will open up more land for real estate development and also remove the bottlenecks for some projects in limbo.
The change involves excluding tracts of land included in the final development plans or town improvement plans from the ambit of the PLPA.
The state government plans to table an amendment Bill in this regard in the budget session of the state assembly next week.
The proposed amendment will come to the rescue of real estate developers, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and individuals by allowing construction activity in areas where it was previously disallowed due to enforcement of PLPA.
The amendment will also grant legitimacy to Kant Enclave in Faridabad, built on PLPA notified land and which was ordered to be demolished by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held that “Kant Enclave is a forest or is a forest land or is required to be treated as a forest or forest land and absolutely no construction activity could have been permitted on it with effect from August 18, 1992. Any and all construction activity in Kant Enclave since that date is illegal and impermissible in law.”
Environmentalists were quick to target the state government for its dilution of the green law.
“Aravalli areas are the only forested areas in cities like Gurugram and Faridabad. They provide critical ecological services like ground water recharge, are wildlife habitats, and are also the last green lungs in rapidly concretising cities. Diluting PLPA to expand real estate (activity) will destroy the Aravallis and severely damage the quality of life of both current and future generations,” said Chetan Agarwal , an environment activisit.
The PLPA legislation was enacted to save the soil from erosion. It is applicable to all of Punjab and Haryana. Certain activities, including construction, are barred in areas of northern Haryana along the Shiwalik hills which are prone to soil erosion due to water flow, and also in the rugged terrain of southern and western Haryana which are prone to erosion both by air and water. About 25,000 ha of Aravallis in South Haryana fall under PLPA.
The government, however, is approaching the development environment equation from the other side.
“Lakhs of dwelling units, commercial buildings, industrial units, public buildings, massive public infrastructure and agriculture activities over about one-fourth (about 11,000 sq km) of the geographical area of the state are affected (by PLPA). Sale and purchase of such land and immovable properties have become liable to be considered illegal. Such unintended consequences adversely impacting livelihood of millions of citizens need to be allayed and remedied,” said the draft amendment Bill, a copy of which has been seen by HT.
Land under PLPA accounts for almost a fourth of the total land area of the state.
“The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that the Aravallis have to be protected at any cost. It observed that PLPA areas were forest even if PLPA notifications had expired. Therefore, any attempt to dilute the act will threaten the Aravallis and be directly contrary to the directions of the court,” said Lt. Col (retd) Sarvadaman Oberoi.