Haryana’s narrow definition of Aravallis will not be in the interests of the well-being of residents

Haryana’s narrow definition of Aravallis ignores range’s ecological role. State government needs to rethink its plan.

Anew plan to draw the boundaries of the Aravallis in Haryana could deprive a big chunk of the world’s oldest fold mountain system from enjoying the protection accorded to eco-sensitive regions in the NCR. A committee constituted by the state government has asked officials to identify areas under Aravallis on the basis of a 1992 MoEF order that limits the mountain range in Haryana to the erstwhile Gurgaon district — currently Gurugram and Nuh districts. That means more than 9,000 hectares in Faridabad will not come under the National Conservation Zone (NCZ), exposing the area to real estate activities and jeopardising the mountain range’s ecological functions.

Extending for nearly 700 km from eastern Gujarat to south Haryana, through Rajasthan and Delhi, the Aravallis are the green lungs for large parts of the subcontinent. They moderate the velocity of hot winds that blow towards north India and resist the advance of the Thar Desert towards the Indo-Gangetic plains. Their forests are crucial to recharging groundwater. The NCR regional plan 2021, framed in 2005, slotted the Aravalli ecosystem in the area under the NCZ, most of which is out of bounds for construction activity. But the plan has been subject to vigorous stonewalling by successive governments in Haryana, which insisted that there was no clear definition of the Aravallis. In 2017, the state administration told the Union Ministry of Urban Development that there were no Aravallis in Haryana, except in parts of Gurugram and even there, the NCZ strictures on construction activity should not apply. Last year, it was pulled up by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for delaying the notification of NCZ.

Since 2002, a number of Supreme Court orders have placed strictures on mining in the Aravallis. However, real estate developers — as well as miners — have found ways to flatten the hills and appropriate land. In 2018, the apex court noted that the range had lost a quarter of its hills. In recent times, the apex court has come down heavily on illegal construction in the Aravallis — at times making no distinction between farmhouses of the rich and the dwellings of the poor. It would, however, be salutary to understand that such transgressions are a result of a complex interplay of socioeconomic factors and administrative failures. In Haryana, much of the administrative failure stems from poor appreciation of the ecological services provided by the Aravallis. The state government would do well to keep in mind the increasing pollution level in Haryana’s cities, most of which are also groundwater stressed. A narrow definition of the Aravallis will not be in the interests of the well-being of the state’s residents.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 14, 2021 under the title ‘Flattening the hills’.

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