Saving the Remnants

Vijaylakshmi Suman

Recently, the Haryana government moved a bill to amend the 118-year-old Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) – a law which inhibits construction activities in large sections of the Aravalli’s. While the PLPA is not applicable to those areas falling under Master Plans, the bill allows the continued existence of those unauthorised constructions that came up in the areas falling under PLPA post 19961. Under PLPA, the two NCR districts of Gurugram and Faridabad have over 16,000 acres and 10,000 acres, respectively, of protected forests. According to news reports, with the passing of the amendment, Gurugram and Faridabad will lose precious forests to real estate development. Around 60,000 acres of forest constituting 50% of the Aravalli range in South Haryana will be open to real estate2. The impact of this massive deforestation will also be felt in Delhi and the remaining NCR regions as ecological preserves like Mangar Bani would be lost under the amended PLPA.

However, this amendment is seen as a gross violation of several Supreme Court orders which clearly state that areas under PLPA are deemed as forest. This amendment will allow builders and mining groups easy access to more than 80,000 acres of protected land, consequently affecting the environment and surrounding landscapes adversely. The rise in real estate activities would, inevitably, impact the groundwater table, as well as have detrimental effects on the wildlife species in the Aravalli’s.

The hastiness of the government’s decision to pass the bill raises several questions with respect to the importance of wild urban ecosystems in and around the city. According to McKinney (2017), wildlands are increasingly transformed into managed ecosystems mostly due to agriculture and urbanisation. Although wilderness is seen as contrary to cities and civilisation, a recent trend shows that cities are now being recognized for their wilderness areas. While urbanisation is transforming natural ecosystems, urban lands can often contain richer biodiversity than the rural lands. These green spaces hold huge potential for the provisioning of ecological and social benefits which are often intertwined. Yet, they do not receive enough attention, and intensive densification could possibly threaten urban green spaces (Haaland & Bosch, 2015). The field of urban forestry is adopting a holistic approach towards managing greenery in and around cities. Efforts are being invested in developing green infrastructure, and enhancing ecosystem services such as provisioning of space for recreation, aesthetic enjoyment, conservation of species and so on.

Regardless, efforts to enhance and increase the city’s forest and green cover is often accompanied by urban sprawl, which may threaten the remnant natural spaces that are present in the countryside. The passing of the newly amended bill to bring large parts of the Aravalli under construction and human interference is a classic example of how green spaces in the city are under threat. However, the Supreme Court continues to uphold its decision to not allow any construction in the forested lands under PLPA, and has issued a warning to the Haryana state to not mend with the Supreme Court order3. The amendment is also being opposed by anxious environmental activists and local residents who feel that the passing of the bill would clear the way for several illegal constructions, and the consequent destruction of large parts of the Aravalli range. While senior advocates have stated that the bill has been passed in the assembly, the bill is yet to become an Act.

References

  • McKinney, M. L., Ingo, K., & Kendal, D. (2018). The contribution of wild urban ecosystems to liveable cities. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening29, 334-335.
  • Haaland, C., & van den Bosch, C. K. (2015). Challenges and strategies for urban green-space planning in cities undergoing densification: A review. Urban forestry & urban greening, 14(4), 760-771.

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