In what is being touted as a historic order, the National Green Tribunal has recognised a 52.3 acre-piece of land in Faridabad’s Sarai Khawaja village as ‘deemed forest’, dashing hopes of two builders to develop a residential complex there.
In its order, the Tribunal stated that the stand of the State of Haryana, which insisted the land was not “forest”, is “erroneous in law”. It also reprimanded the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for “mechanically” upholding this stand and entirely “ignoring” an enquiry report regarding the matter, which had concluded that the land is “forest as per dictionary meaning”.
“If such an enquiry report was to be disagreed, it was necessary for MoEF to have given its reasons. The enquiry report was based on valid factual and legal basis, which have been brushed aside in agreeing with the erroneous view of the State of Haryana,” states the order.
“It is difficult to uphold the stand of the State of Haryana, with which MoEF has agreed, that the area in question is not a forest area. Once it is so, mere fact that the area is included in part of Sector 47 in the Master Plan is not conclusive to hold the same to not be covered by the definition of ‘forest’ in terms of law… The land in question is, thus, held to be deemed forest,” it states.
It was in June 2017 that Lt Col (Retd) Sarvadham Singh Oberoi approached the NGT, alleging that the proposal of M/s Ajay Enterprises Pvt Ltd and M/s Bharti Land Limited to develop a residential complex in the area was in violation of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. He also alleged that letters written by the Additional Chief Secretary (Forests), directing that permission be granted for felling of over 7,000 trees at the spot, were in violation of a Supreme Court judgment.
The State of Haryana, however, relied on four arguments to justify its stand — that the land “is not a recorded forest”; is not notified under Section 4 or 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900; includes no plantation under the Aravalli project; and is not included in areas identified as “reserve forest, protected forest un-classed forest” by the expert committee constituted as part of the T N Godavarman case.
An enquiry report on the matter — dated August 17, 2017, and submitted by the Conservator of Forests (Central), Northern Regional office to the DIG in the MoEF — considered two critical judgments, one by the Supreme Court and another by the NGT. The enquiry report concluded that these judgments had been violated by the state in granting permission for tree felling.
In its order, the NGT stated: “… the stand of the State of Haryana that land was not recorded as forest land and has to be taken as non-forest… is erroneous in law.”
Welcoming the order, environmentalists said this sets an “important precedent”. “This is a historic moment in the forestry governance of Haryana, with implications for the 50,000 acres of Aravallis which are outside the PLPA special sections 4 and 5 notifications, including Mangar Bani and the Aravalli Biodiversity Park. The judgment provides a glimmer of hope at a time when the state is effectively repealing the PLPA through retrospective amendments,” said environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal.