Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Aravalli Mountains
Mains level: Row over Haryana’s proposed amendment bill
- It was in 1900 that the then Government of Punjab enacted the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), aimed at “conservation of sub-soil water” and “prevention of erosion” by giving the state power to “regulate, restrict or prohibit” certain activities, including “clearing or breaking up” of land.
- As a result, for the last 118 years, the Act provided notified tracts of land in the Aravallis protection against real estate construction, urbanisation and mining.
- The Haryana government passed an amendment Bill which environmentalists have since termed a “repeal” of the 1900 Act.
- The Bill proposed several changes to the Act, including exclusion of land that falls under “final development plans” or any other “town improvement plans or schemes” from its ambit, leaving thousands of acres of the Aravallis vulnerable.
- Days later the apex Court came down heavily on the Haryana government for the move, calling it “sheer contempt”, and restraining the state from implementing it.
- In multiple orders over several years, the Supreme Court has reiterated the PLPA’s powers, recognising land notified under the Act as a “forest”.
Critical amendments the assembly passed
- The amendment excludes “certain lands” from the ambit of PLPA, including land included in the “final development plans, town improvement plans or schemes, any public infrastructure”
- It gives state government the power to “amend or rescind” any notification or orders made under PLPA
- It gives state government the power to exempt “any class of person or areas or land” from “any or all provisions” of PLPA if it causes them “undue hardship”
- It directed that PLPA orders and notifications will be valid for a period of 30 years, and the “regulations, restrictions or prohibitions” imposed shall “cease to exist” afterwards.
Why Aravallis matters?
- The Aravallis in Haryana are home to over 400 species of native trees, shrubs and herbs, more than 200 native and migratory bird species, and wildlife that includes leopards, jackals, hyenas, mongoose and civet cats.
- They are crucial to groundwater recharge, which is significant given the water scarcity the region faces during harsh summer months.
- The thick forest cover helps to naturally purify air in a region plagued by high levels of vehicular and industrial pollution through the year
- The Wildlife Institute of India, in a 2017 report, had highlighted: “The forests of the Aravalli range in Haryana are now the most degraded forests in India, most of the indigenous plant species have disappeared.
- The rapid deforestation and developmental activities are destroying the unique landscape that requires immediate conservation attention.
What if PLPA amended?
- The PLPA amendment, if implemented, will also impact another legislation that is in place to protect the Aravallis — the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) — fear environmentalists.
- There are two criteria for an area to be declared NCZ — it must either be recognised as a forest, or as Aravallis.
- However, the Haryana government does not recognise the latter as a criterion for NCZ, and the only forests recognised in the state are PLPA notified lands.
- If the PLPA is gone, then NCZ will also come under threat because Haryana is resisting the identification of Aravallis as a criteria for NCZ.
- There will be no legal forest left; with the Aravallis not being accepted as a criteria, NCZ protection will go too.