Why In News?
- The Supreme Court and environmental activists expressed concerns over amendments to Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900 by the Haryana government.
- The article summarizes the key amendments, reasons and concerns thereof.
- Recently, the Haryana assembly passed the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2019.
- This move has reinvigorated debates over threats to Aravallis.
- The Supreme Court has also directed the Haryana government to refrain itself from implementing the amendments to the act.
Threats faced by Aravallis
- Aravalli belt is a highly deforested region which has witnessed decline in forest cover especially in the ‘gap areas’. (see earlier post – link given at the end of this article)
- This is mainly due to illegal mining and real estate construction activities.
- Ground Water Scarcity
- Aravallis, due to high porosity, plays an important role in groundwater recharge of northern aquifers in Haryana and Delhi.
- Degradation of land has reduced the capacity of Aravallis to hold water in the aquifers and hence groundwater recharge.
- Threat to Ecological balance
- Aravallis is home to rich biodiversity including leopards, hyenas, civet cats, jackal, neelgai, mongoose and more than 100 bird species, native and migratory.
- Degradation of land threatens the ecology of the region threatening the biodiversity of the region.
Amendments to Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900
Punjab Land Preservation Act
- In 1900, the then Government of Punjab enacted the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) aimed at preventing soil erosion and conserving sub-soil water in Aravallis.
- The Act conferred upon state government, the power to regulate, restrict or prohibit construction and mining activities around Aravallis.
Key amendments to PLPA
- Exclusion of lands
- The proposed amendment adds Section 3A to PLPA that excludes “certain lands” from the ambit of PLPA.
- The categories of land excluded are:
- Land in the final stage of development plans
- Town improvement plans or schemes
- Lands that are part of any public infrastructure like rails, roads, canals, public institutions, government or public establishments developed so far
- According to environmentalists, this move will effectively legitimize all constructions in the region especially in Gurgaon and Faridabad.
- The Supreme Court in 2002 has directed the government to recognize land notified under the PLP Act as ‘forest’ and ‘forest land’ and ordered for demolition of illegal construction.
2. Sunset Clause
- The amendment seeks to introduce a sunset clause to the notifications issued under PLPA (regulating land development).
- Accordingly, the restrictions and prohibitions imposed are valid for 30 years after which the restrictions cease to exist.
- This is in contravention to the Supreme Court order of 2002, SC order, which stated that lands “notified under PLPA 1900 is to be recorded as ‘forests’ in government records even if the notification period has expired”.
3. Dilution of PLPA
- Section 3 of the original PLPA had given powers to state government to directly notify land restricting and prohibiting construction and other activities.
- The amendment to this provision has introduced a check in-between that requires the government to first issue a “preliminary notification” to hear and consider objections if any.
- This amendment is seen as dilution of Section 3 of the original act.
4. Power to De-notify
- The amendment confers upon state government “amend or rescind” any notification or orders made under PLPA.
- This is done to correct the mistakes, defects and fault lines in implementation.
- This amendment is also seen as dilution of the original act.
5. Exclusion of and class of persons
- The amendment also confers upon state government the power to exempt “any class of person from “any or all provisions” of PLPA if it causes them “undue hardship”.
- This provision is seen as favouring the real estate lobby displaying a politics-builders nexus.
6. Threat to Natural Conservation Zone
- Areas recognized as ‘forest’ or as ‘Aravallis’ are declared Natural Conservation Zone.
- The government is already restrictive about declaring Aravallis as NCZ.
- Now with the power to de-notify, even those notified land categorized as ‘forest’ will come out of the ambit of NCZ
- It is feared that the amendment will impact Natural Conservation Zone of Aravallis.
Significance of Aravallis
- The Aravallis are the oldest fold mountain ranges in India cutting across Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west to Haryana and Delhi in the east.
- Aravalis have been instrumental in shaping the climate of the upper Indo-Gangetic plain.
- The river ‘Luni’ is largest river system of Rajasthan, west of Aravali. It originates near Pushkar and comes out of Aravali and flows towards southwest to join the Rann of Kuchchh.
- The ecological significance of Aravalis:
- Helps combat desertification
- Acts as water divide for important drainage systems
- Enhances precipitation and checks droughts in the region
- Rich habitat for biodiversity including jackal, neelgai, mongoose besides more than 100 bird species
- An important groundwater recharge zone and crucial for groundwater security of south Haryana towns like Gurgaon and Faridabad
- Act as lungs to northern region helping in naturally purifying air and thus combating vehicular and industrial pollution.
Note: In an earlier post in September 2018, we have covered ‘desertification of Aravallis and its effects in detail.