DELHI: In a move that could deal a body blow to threatened forests and water bodies in the National Capital Region, Haryana government has successfully got restrictions on construction activity in ‘conservation zones’ deleted from the revised NCR regional plan, which is now in the final stages of getting notified.
If the change is notified, all four state governments in the NCR will get a much freer hand in allowing constructions in eco-sensitive zones such as the Aravalis and the Yamuna riverbed. Although mandatory clearances would still be required, the earlier clause that restricted constructions in these zones to just 0.5% of the owned land — that is, only 20 sq m in an acre — has been jettisoned.
The dropping of the restriction clause came to light after an RTI application allowed green activists to access files related to NCR plans. The original regional plan for NCR 2021 has a clause that restricts constructions for “regional recreational activities” in natural conservation zones.
Documents obtained by SS Oberoi of Mission Gurgaon Development under RTI show that the proposal to do away with this restriction was moved by Haryana government in the 61st planning committee meeting held at the NCR Planning Board on June 4, 2013. According to the minutes of the meeting, “Financial commissioner and principal secretary, town and country planning department, government of Haryana suggested that natural conservation zone [para 17.5.3 (iv)] relating to regional/ recreational activities, restricted constructions of 0.5% may be deleted.”
“The design behind this move is clearly to allow a mega tourism complex at the Mangar forest off Gurgaon-Faridabad road, which is considered sacred by the locals. Questions were raised by the environment ministry and NCRPB on why the draft Mangar development plan did not identify the forest as a conservation zone. Now, Haryana government has found another way of building the tourism complex. They will get all their other pending projects cleared after the amended NCR plan comes into force,” Oberoi alleged.
Environment analyst Chetan Agrawal said that the change will have serious repercussion on the ecology of the entire NCR. “This blanket shift in planning norms will come as an advantage to all the state government to allow unlimited construction in eco-sensitive zones. The provision of identifying and protecting the eco-sensitive areas has been there since 2005 when the 2021 plan was prepared. But this has been ignored in the successive master plans by member states,” he said.
Agrawal added that the change goes against the thrust of NCRPB, which has called for better planned development for sustainability and conservation of eco-sensitive areas. Constructions in natural conservation zones will threaten the catchment areas of major Aravali lakes such as Damdama and Dhauj.
The amended regional plan has been approved by the NCRPB apex committee which includes the Union urban development minister and chief ministers of Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The board invited public objections to the draft revised plan, which ended on August 30.
Ironically, the draft plan notes with concern that green areas in NCR have declined from 4.3% in 1999 to 3.3% in 2012, a drop of 23%. The document says more areas should be brought under green belts.
The first comparative satellite-based study of change in land use in NCR had shown that between 1999 and 2012, the region lost 32,769 hectares of green areas and 1,464 hectares of water bodies. While Uttar Pradesh recorded the maximum loss at 17,386 hectares, Haryana lost 8,716 hectares.
NCRPB’s nod for planning by states has become crucial after the Noida Extension episode where housing projects were stalled simply because the board had not approved the UP government’s plan. The Allahabad high court had cited this as the reason why it had put a stay on the construction.