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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

‘If you are politically committed to destroying conservation zones, say so’: HC raps Khattar govt

The division bench said the government for the past five years has done nothing, adding that it was an attempt to reduce the area of NCZs identified in past.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | Chandigarh | Published: February 13, 2020 8:00:44 am
Haryana, Haryana deforestation, Haryana natural conservation zones, Manohar Lal Khattar, Punjab and Haryana high court Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar

The Punjab and Haryana High Court Wednesday hit out at the Haryana government for delay in notifying the identified natural conservation zones (NCZs) in its districts falling under the National Capital Region (NCR) and observed that the state government should “say so” if it was “politically committed” to destroying them.

“If your intention is that you are not going to protect it…. politically you are committed to destroy them … then say so… Who are you? You are individuals who are in business? You are builders? You are identifying yourselves with them. These are 25 pages (government affidavit)….we are trying to find something which indicates your bonafide that you are trying to do something,” observed the division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli, as it warned that it will issue contempt notices against the government officers for non-compliance of court orders.

In 2014, the High Court had disposed of a petition regarding developmental plans on Haryana’s land falling in the NCR region with the observations that all the activities can carry on subject to them being in conformity with the regional plan of the National Capital Regional Planning Board (NCRPB). Haryana government was also told to prepare a sub-regional plan. With the state failing to do so, the court in 2015 directed that no further licence or change of land use be granted in the NCR region falling within the state of Haryana without prior approval of the court. While the order was vacated later on the assurance that issues regarding sub-regional plan have been addressed, the matter related to the NCZs — also connected to the sub-regional plan of NCR region — has remained pending till date.

During the hearing which lasted little over an hour Wednesday, the division bench said the government for the past five years has done nothing, adding that it was an attempt to reduce the area of NCZs identified in past. The court said that it was unable to discern from the state government’s reply whether it felt that it had some moral responsibility towards protection of the environment.

The court questioned the Haryana government’s stand that only 64,384.66 hectares of area falls under the NCZs as per “ground truthing” in 2012. Satellite imagery had identified 1,22,113.30 hectares under NCZ in 2005. But Haryana contests NCRPB’s depiction of NCZs on the basis of satellite imageries “and without confirming them through ground truthing and the revenue records”. Its argument also is that various vital installations and buildings fall in the areas identified as NCZs through satellite imagery.

“You can manipulate revenue records. You can manipulate things on ground and then say the ground situation has changed. You have manipulated the records, but satellite imagery won’t change,” observed the court Wednesday. It also asked the state that why its sub-regional plan was not in conformity with the regional plan of the NCRPB.

‘No Aravali hills in Haryana?’

In the documents filed before the High Court on Wednesday, the Haryana government said the term Aravali range or hills does not exist in the revenue record, adding the hills and land parcels associated with it are recorded as Gair Mumkin Pahar in the revenue records. The government also said there are certain pockets which are recorded as Gair Mumkin Pahar, but actual uses such as agriculture, roads, buildings etc. have been prevalent for decades. A 2017 letter, which was placed before court along with the reply, reveals that Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also had written to the Centre that any further restrictions in the Aravalis would enhance the regulatory burden and impede development activities in the state.

But the court on Wednesday questioned the Haryana government’s assertions that there are no “Aravali range/hills” in the state and said the statements were being made despite different Supreme Court orders in this regard.

“Let’s understand something. It appears, according to you, that whatever is required to be done is to be done by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and not by Haryana. Have you done anything on your own? All the time we have read that Union was required to do this, the Board was required to do that. There is no area as Natural Conservation Zone, Aravali? This is the the attitude of government,” observed the court.

The division bench also pointed out the lack of involvement of Haryana’s department of environment or forestry in the processes regarding the NCZs as it noted that the reply in the case regarding the conservation zones before the court had been filed through the Town and Planning Department.

“So in state of Haryana, unlike any other states of this huge country, environment is dealt by Town and Country Planning Department. Have you shut down the environment department? How do you feel its existence? Natural Conservation Zones are identified by Town and Country Planning department? Has the state of Haryana and its big machinery identified any eco-sensitive zone or is the department of environment.. forest defunct,” observed the court.

During the hearing, the state government sought three days to respond to the questions raised by the court. It was also asserted that no permissions for change of land use have been given in the identified NCZs. In the written reply, it said that the matter regarding the NCZs after ground exercise was under consideration by the committees constituted by the NGT and the NCRPB. The case is now listed for next hearing on February 20.

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