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
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