Despite a walkout by the opposition, protests by residents and multiple campaigns, the BJP government of Haryana has opened up thousands of acres of land for the real estate developers by amending the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Act [PLPA] on Wednesday.
As much as 60,000 acres of forests, which adds up to 50 per cent of the Aravali range in South Haryana in the districts of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Nuh, Mahendragarh and Rewari, is now open to commercial activities. While Gurgaon has over 16,000 acres of forests under PLPA, while Faridabad has more than 10,000 acres of forests protected under the Act.
The forest land has been protected under the act since 1900 and was oriented towards preserving the dense forest cover in the forests. In order to do so, the act banned activities such as felling of trees, quarrying, and herding.
Speaking to NewsClick, Ritwik Dutta, environment lawyer said, “The amendment goes against the law itself, the very name of the act suggests preservation. With the entire area gone, what is left to preserve? There is absolutely no relation between the amendment, and the objective. Instead, it goes on to violate the protection of the forest areas.”
The brazen attempt to privatise the forest lands by the Manohar Lal Khattar becomes evident in the justification of the government. The government stated that the PLPA has taken away the ownership rights permanently, thereby affecting the livelihoods of citizens, and the amendments are therefore necessary. Khattar said, "This was the demand of the day. As of now, we are faced with litigation for Kant Enclave and Huda sector. Nearly 16 districts are covered and we have become helpless, hence this amendment was necessary. We have taken care of protected areas." Responding to this, Dutta added, “The government is justifying the amendment by stating that it was causing hardships to the people. The only hardship the act was causing was to the real estate businesses.”
The opposition demanded that the PLPA be withdrawn or put on hold till a House committee examines it. It also staged a brief walkout when it was being passed. The residents of Gurugram have been waging a campaign against this attempt. Speaking to Newsclick, Mallika, activist and a Gurugram resident said, “Gurugram has the lowest forest cover compared to the national average; 33 per cent of our forest cover is now going to be destroyed.” The residents and the activists are not backing down as the order is now set to face a legal challenge given its adverse repercussions on health and pollution.