NCR board allows tourism in eco zones
Jan 21, 2014
Source : The Times of India


DELHI: In what is being described by activists as an environmental disaster, the NCR Planning Board on Monday cleared crucial provisions to allow tourism in natural conservation zone (NCZ) such as Aravalis, Yamuna riverbed and areas around major water bodies, albeit setting a cap on the area that can be used for tourism. Activists say that this is the thin end of the wedge as, once allowed, there will never be a proper mechanism to measure that the cap is really being observed.

TOI has learnt that it was only Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung who raised questions whether the limit on construction in such zones in the name of tourism was diluting the very principle of protection to these sensitive ecological zones. When told that no construction would be allowed beyond 0.5% of the area falling under conservation zone, Jung said this must be stressed and put on records.

"There was brief discussion on this critical issue which has huge implications on the ecology and sustainability of Delhi and its surrounding districts," said a high-ranking official present in the meeting. It seemed to him that the objective was to somehow rush through this provision as after a brief discussion the next agenda was taken up.

The entire meeting lasted for little over an hour and a half. In this time the regional plan, covering areas as far as Bharatpur in Rajasthan, was okayed. The plan sets guidelines for land use, environment protection and sub-regional planning. The meeting chaired by Union urban development minister Kamal Nath was dominated by customary speeches, sources said.

Only about 30 minutes was dedicated to the meeting's agenda. The main issues were: approval of the revised regional plan, delegation of power of the apex board for finalizing and approving sub-regional plans to the empowered committee and inclusion of Jind and Karnal districts in NCR.

On their part, politicians promised to ensure that the cap on constructions in the sensitive ecological zones would not be breached. "We assure you that there will be no dilution in allowing construction in protected zones beyond 0.5%,"said Kamal Nath. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda also said that there was no question of breaching that limit. Activists, however, said that there have been several such promises on the environment which have been observed in their breach.

There was no clarity whether the provision of "except" for allowing construction beyond this limit with prior approval of forest and environment authorities will be deleted when the plan gets notified. Allowing tourism, which includes commercial activities and that too beyond 0.5% of the total area under conservation zone, won't just harm the natural habitat but will also destroy the huge natural groundwater recharge zone in Aravalis that is crucial for Delhi and its neighbouring districts.

These changes proposed are contrary to the original regional plan prepared in 2005, which allowed only regional recreational activities - regional parks and wildlife sanctuary, etc - with a limit of construction not exceeding 0.5% of land and that too with permission of competent authority. There was no provision of exception.

The new provision read, "Regional recreational activities (including tourism) with a limit on construction of 0.5% except with the approval of the competent forest and environment authorities." The provision of "except" may provide enough scope for commercial exploitation.

Activists point out that construction companies have made big plans in ecologically sensitive areas, such as the Mangar forest, for long and were waiting for a loophole in the norms to swing into action. Responding to the commitment made by Hooda, Col S Oberoi, one of the activists fighting for Aravalis said, "It is heartening to hear that he is not planning to give any permissions and change of land use licences beyond 0.5% in these areas."

He, however, felt that the exception clause creates discretionary power to grant change of land use licences beyond 0.5%, and is likely to be misused as back door route for large scale residential and commercial real estate development in the Aravalli. Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst, said that ecological security of the NCR is at stake. As ground water aquifers are a common pool resource, development in Aravalli will dry up groundwater recharge for both Delhi Gurgaon and Faridabad.



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