More pro­tec­tion re­quired for Man­gar Bani

Af­ter re­duc­ing the buf­fer zone around Man­gar Bani for­est in the Aravallis to 60 me­tres last year, the Haryana gov­ern­ment has fi­nally de­cided to ex­tend it to 500 me­tres and de­clare it as a ‘no­con­struc­tion zone’. But is this enough? MAN­GAR BANI SHOULD BE N

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Last Sun­day was a busy day for Haryana’s chief min­is­ter Manohar­lal Khat­tar. Two days be­fore the NCR Plan­ning Board (NCRPB) meet­ing, he de­cided to take an aerial sur­vey of the Aravallis. Ear­lier moot­ing a smaller buf­fer zone of 60 me­tres, the gov­ern­ment’s change of heart was ev­i­dent when he in­formed the board in the pres­ence of Union ur­ban devel­op­ment min­is­ter M Venkaiah Naidu that the “Haryana gov­ern­ment has agreed to pro­tect Man­gar Bani for­est grove and keep a 500 me­tre buf­fer, which will be a no­con­struc­tion zone.”

His state­ment marked the end of a year-long con­tro­versy over the pro­tec­tion of the sa­cred wooded area and the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of its buf­fer zone. In April 2014 the NCRPB sec­re­tariat had agreed to a 500-me­tre pro­tected zone around the for­est but the state gov­ern­ment had turned down the pro­posal and de­cided to re­duce it to a mere 60 me­tres.

On iden­ti­fy­ing and de­mar­cat­ing the nat­u­ral con­ser­va­tion zones (NCZs), Naidu said the NCRPB had di­rected the mem­ber states to speed up de­lin­eation of the NCZ through ‘ground truthing.’ The board also de­cided that the Haryana gov­ern­ment would main­tain sta­tus quo in re­spect of the iden­ti­fied NCZ and in re­spect of for­est landtill the min­istry of en­vi­ron­ment and forests came out with the def­i­ni­tion of the for­est ar­eas.

The move was wel­comed by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who had been al­leg­ing that there was “enor­mous pres­sure” by pri­vate de­vel­op­ers who had bought large tracts of land in the area and who wanted to di­lute land use pro­vi­sions.

“We are grate­ful to the CM for restor­ing the buf­fer for Man­gar Bani to 500 me­tres in the meet­ing of the NCRPB and are hope­ful that this is just the first in a se­ries of de­ci­sions to pro­tect the Haryana Aravallis for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” they say.

The de­ci­sions taken at the Tues­day meet­ing were a “good start,” but “much more needs to be ac­com­plished.” The sub­re­gional plan of the area has sev­eral di­lu­tions in the en­vi­ron­men­tal safe­guards un­der­lined in the re­gional plan of 2021. “By ad­dress­ing th­ese is­sues the gov­ern­ment will show that it is se­ri­ous about its in­ten­tion to save the sa­cred grove for pos­ter­ity,” the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists added.

Anom­alies in the plan

Haryana’s sub-re­gional plan 2021 was no­ti­fied in May last year and was found to con­tain cer­tain changes and anom­alies which need to be ad­dressed by the state gov­ern­ment. Some of th­ese in­clude de­mar­ca­tion of Man­gar Bani, defin­ing what it is and the area it will cover. Only af­ter the de­mar­ca­tion will a buf­fer be cre­ated be­yond the limit.

Ac­cord­ing to the Di­rec­torate Town and Coun­try Plan­ning (DTCP) files, the depart­ment prin­ci­pally agreed to pro­tect 322 hectares or 760 acres as Man­gar Bani. In 2012, the Man­gar draft Mas­ter Plan was is­sued but the Man­gar Bani area was not marked out. DTCP ac­cepted the map in prin­ci­ple and in 2014 promised to spec­ify how much area Man­gar Bani and the 500 me­tre buf­fer zone cov­ered.

How­ever, in the May meet­ing the gov­ern­ment went back on its prom­ise and is­sued a sub re­gional plan (SRP) that re­duced the size of the zone by 90% to about 60 me­tres. Again, in a meet­ing in July, the rev­enue depart­ment left out two-third of the for­est area, let­ting just 165 acres re­main. As the wooded area lim­its were re­duced, the vil­lagers protested and for­est of­fi­cers claimed that their staff was pres­surised to sign on a dec­la­ra­tion to re­duce the size of Man­gar Bani so that its de­mar­ca­tion was de­clared in­valid.

The NCZs con­tro­versy

The Nat­u­ral Con­ser­va­tion Zone be­ing ‘ex­cluded’ in the ‘ur­ban­is­able ar­eas’ has also stirred up a con­tro­versy. In sec­tion 14.7.4 ti­tled En­vi­ron­ment Sen­si­tive Con­ser­va­tion Zone, on page 294 of the Haryana SRP 2021, “The Aravalli ranges have been des­ig­nated as Nat­u­ral Con­ser­va­tion Zone in the Plan in ac­cor­dance with Re­gional Plan 2021, ex­cept those ar­eas which are com­ing in the ur­ban­is­able area.”

The above ex­cep­tion clause, to ex­clude the Aravalli range fall­ing in ur­ban­is­able ar­eas from the des­ig­na­tion of NCZ, is con­trary to the de­ci­sions of the Plan­ning Com­mit­tee Meet­ing dated Fe­buary 20, 2014.

At the meet­ing, Haryana had pro­posed to com­pen­sate the equiv­a­lent area of NCZ fall­ing in the ur­ban­is­able area else­where in the NCR, which was not agreed to by the NCRPB Plan­ning Com­mit­tee, as all eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive ar­eas have to be pro­tected. As com­pen­sa­tion was not al­lowed, the said ar­eas had to be pro­tected in situ.

There­fore, the cur­rent ex­cep­tion clause in the Haryana SRP, which ex­cludes the Aravallis f alling i n the ur­ban­is­able area from the NCZ, is a brazen at­tempt that vi­o­lates the let­ter and spirit of the de­ci­sions of the NCRPB. All NCZs in ur­ban and ur­ban­is­able ar­eas must be treated as sacro­sanct. Haryana may be di­rected to re­place the word “ex­cept” with the word “in­clud- In the NCRB meet­ing this week, it was de­cided that the Haryana gov­ern­ment would main­tain sta­tus quo on iden­ti­fied nat­u­ral con­ser­va­tion zones of for­est land till the min­istry of en­vi­ron­ment and forests (MoEF) came out with the def­i­ni­tion of for­est ar­eas. The min­istry would have to pre­pare a draft re­port which would be sub­mit­ted to the SC ing” to fi­nally read, “in­clud­ing those ar­eas which are com­ing in the ur­ban­is­able area,” say en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

“This can im­pact 30,000 acres. The gov­ern­ment should re­view the SRP and make this change and the other changes, in­clud­ing the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. The re­gional plan has men­tioned that the car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of the area has to be re­spected but the SRP has deleted the clause. Car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity refers to the max­i­mum pop­u­la­tion size of the species that the en­vi­ron­ment can The re­gional plan was passed in 2005. This means that the NCZ should have been pro­tected since 2005. The 2021 Mas­ter Plan passed in 2007 and the 2025 Plan passed in 2010 did not men­tion NCZ. There was no sub-re­gional plan, too, un­til 2014. What this means is that the Aravallis, with­out zon­ing, need ur­gent pro­tec­tion sus­tain in­def­i­nitely, given the food, habi­tat, wa­ter, and other ne­ces­si­ties are avail­able in the en­vi­ron­ment,” says Chetan Agar­wal, an en­vi­ron­men­tal an­a­lyst.

Scope of con­struc­tion

The SRP should also clar­ify the limited scope of con­struc­tion in NCZs.

The pro­vi­sion for con­trolled devel­op­ment in the NCZs makes it nec­es­sary for the NCRPB to clar­ify the scope and ex­tent of con­struc­tion per­mis­si­ble in Most parts of the Aravallis are not treated as forests by the Haryana gov­ern­ment but as gair mumkin pa­har (non-cul­tivable land) in the state’s rev­enue records. The wooded area ac­tu­ally varies – there are thick forests in some parts and open scrub ar­eas in the other. Haryana has to iden­tify its forests as per ‘dic­tio­nary mean­ing’ fol­low- the ambit of re­gional recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties (or any other form) within the NCZs. There is a pro­vi­sion here for “re­gional recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties with no con­struc­tion ex­ceed­ing 0.5% of the area with the per­mis­sion of the com­pe­tent author­ity.”

The only con­struc­tion that is per­mit­ted as per the zon­ing reg­u­la­tion is pursuant to re­gional recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties, such as wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies and re­gional parks, and is limited to 0.5% of the area (of the re­gional recre­ational ac­tiv- ing the Supreme Court or­ders in 1996, 1997 and 2011 and till that is done th­ese ar­eas should be kept as they are that is, sta­tus quo has to be main­tained and no change of land use li­censes should be given. The state has to say that this is what it thinks is a for­est and once the MoEF comes out with its own def­i­ni­tion and the SC gives its judg­ment, an amend­ment can be made ity in ques­tion). Tourism as per ap­pli­ca­ble state poli­cies (which in the case of Haryana in­cluded res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial con­struc­tion) had been ob­jected to by Delhi and MoEF and had been re­moved as a pos­si­ble ac­tiv­ity in the NCZ as per the min­utes of the April 25 meet­ing of the board of the NCZ last year.

“Thus, res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial or ho­tel/tourism re­lated con­struc­tion can­not be ap­proved in the NCZ. This needs to be clar­i­fied as news­pa­per re­ports sug­gest that the Haryana may The fact is that the area is not no­ti­fied as a for­est by the gov­ern­ment in its rev­enue records. till date How­ever, since a for­est ex­ists on the ground as per the stan­dard dic­tio­nary mean­ing, the area should be treated as a for­est for the For­est Con­ser­va­tion Act, say en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists such as Chetan Agar­wal use the 0.5% cap to al­low real es­tate con­struc­tion projects,” say en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, adding no change of land use li­censes should be is­sued for NCZ ar­eas and the ex­ist­ing CLUs should be re­voked.

Yet an­other is­sue that needs to be ad­dressed in the sub re­gional plan is to do with the fact that cur­rently there is no pro­vi­sion for pro­tected ar­eas (wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies, and no­ti­fied forests (re­served forests, pro­tected forests) in Aravalli hills of south­ern Haryana.

Most parts of the Aravallis are not treated as forests by the Haryana gov­ern­ment, but as gair mumkin pa­har (non-cul­tivable land) in the state’s rev­enue records

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