By throwing open a sizeable part of the Aravali hills for commercial activities after amending the law that protected their forest cover, the Haryana government has not only disregarded the ominous ramifications of its move but has also blatantly flouted the Supreme Court’s injunctions against it.

Background –

  • All non-forest activities in and along the Aravali hills have, for long, been barred to preserve the ecology of these mountains.
  • The British had enacted a special law, the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), for this purpose way back in 1900.

What changed?

  • The above mentioned statute has now been amended to take away the forest status of large chunks of these hills.
  • The environmentalists view the amendment as a death warrant for the Aravali hills.
  • Fortunately, the apex court has been quick to stay its enforcement, dubbing the move as “obnoxious”.

Result of amendment –

  • The obvious motive behind the amendment of the statute is to legitimise the illegal encroachments and misuse of the Aravali forests for realty, mining and other commercial purposes that have been going apace since the 1970s.
  • Lakhs of dwelling units, commercial buildings and industries have already come up in this fragile mountainous track.
  • Around 30 per cent of the Aravali area falling in the Faridabad and Gurugram districts and notified as protected forests under the PLPA now stands privatised.

Significance of Aravalis –

  • The 692-km Aravali range, spanning parts of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, serves as the lungs for the highly polluted National Capital Region (NCR) besides acting as a natural shield against the creep of the Thar Desert.
  • The ecological worth of the Aravali is immense. Apart from preventing the spread of desertification, it hinders the dust-laden winds from Rajasthan to enter the NCR where the air quality is already grievously poor.
  • It also plays a critical role in recharging the groundwater of the region around it.
  • It is the source of origin of several rivers and rivulets, including Sabarmati, Luni, Chambal and Krishnavati, besides being the catchment of lakes like Damdama, Dhauj, Badkhal and Surajkund.
  • It harbours rich biodiversity, hosting numerous species of plants, birds and animals.
  • It is the corridor between Asola Bhatti sanctuary in Delhi and Sariska in Rajasthan for several kinds of animals, including leopards, hyenas, jackals, mongoose and others.

Concerns –

  • A 2017 study by the Wildlife Institute of India described the Haryana portion of the Aravali range as the country’s most degraded forest.
  • The rapid and unabated deforestation and development activities are further damaging this unique landscape, the report remarked.
  • Indeed, the situation in the Rajasthan portion of the Aravalis is not much better. As many as 31 out of the 128 hills in this segment of the Aravalis have totally disappeared, flattened by the land and mining mafias.

Conclusion –

Considering that Haryana has the lowest forest cover in the country, barely 3.59 per cent, any action that would further curtail the forested land is indefensible. Hope the state government listens to the environmentalists and the apex court and rescinds the amendment to the PLPA. It should, in fact, take positive action to protect and rejuvenate the forest cover of the Aravali hills.

SourceBusiness Standard