In what appears to be a major win for environmentalists, the Haryana government on Saturday revoked its order stating that no permission was required to clear up the majority of trees in the Aravallis.
The detrimental order was issued by the state government on Friday, but owing to large-scale protests had to be withdrawn the very next day.
“We realised our mistake and the order now stands cancelled. Now the status is as it used to be earlier,” said Sunil Gulati, additional chief secretary to the government of Haryana, wildlife and forest department.
The government had added kikar and mesquite trees into its exempted list of trees under Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) 1900 before passing the order on Friday. Mesquite is instrumental in restoring the forest cover of the Aravalli hills. Its coverage is higher in the degraded areas — even up to 90 per cent.
Earlier, the exempted trees included eucalyptus, poplar, bakain, bamboo, tut, guava and ailanthus.
About 1,00,000 hectares of land fall under the Aravallis in southern Haryana. More than 25,000 hectares have been identified as forest, under sections 4 and 5 of PLPA. About 62,000 hectares have been identified as Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ), while another 12,800 hectares have been put under the "yet to be decided" category.
“If the tree-cover density is less than 10 per cent, the area is not considered forest. This loophole was exploited by the government. They issued the order, so real estate lobbies could chop down trees in the Aravallis before the government could pass a decision regarding the ‘yet to be -decided’ category,” explained environmentalist Vivek Kamboj.
Environment analyst Chetan Aggarwal added, “It will lead to a fait accompli situation, where owners of privatised Aravalli common lands can clear entire landholdings on the basis of the exempt tree order. And without trees, their land will not be deemed forest area — thus, the forest act will not apply.”
This is not a maiden attempt.
In April 2015, the government had issued an order stating that large areas of forest, including most parts of the sacred Mangar Bani forest, could be treated as "not forest".
However, later in the same month, the stance was changed to “status to be determined”.