12.03.2021: Big Aravali tracts may open for non-forest work

    Publish Date: March 12, 2021

    Large stretches of Aravalis may be opened up for non-forest activities, including residential purposes, if the government approves the proposed changes in the Forest Conservation Act as circulated by the forest and environment ministry (MoEFCC).

    The amendments proposed by the ministry say the mandatory provision of obtaining prior approval from the Centre under the FC Act won’t be applicable for land parcels that have not been notified as “forest” under the central or local laws and have not been notified as “forest” under the central or local law and have been identified by experts committees set by the state government. Haryana has not yet finalised the list of such land parcels. Most part of Aravalis in Haryana have been privatized. Hence, the land records don’t show them as “forest” land.

    The proposed amendments say a new section would be added to the existing law on the applicability of the Act. It has been proposed that the new law would be applicable to land that has been declared or notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act of 1927 or under any state or local law. Second, it will be applicable on all land parcels that have been recorded as forest as on October 25, 1980 when the FC Act came to force, except those cases where the land-use has been changed from forest to non-forest purpose before December 12, 1996.

    Third, land identified by expert committees set up by states would come under the purview of the new Act. It has been proposed that states which have not yet set up expert panels or not finalised the list of forests would need to do that within one year of the proposed Act coming into force.

    “If these changes are approved, most parts of the entire Aravalis will become non-forest land. Even areas under the Aravali plantation which were declared as forest as per the Supreme Court judgement of 2004 in the MC Mehta case will become nonforest. The implications of the proposed amendment will have disastrous impact on the Aravalis in Haryana where the entire hill has been privatized,” said a former official from Haryana’s forest department. He added that Haryana has been dragging its feet for years since early 2000 to identify and delineate the “forests” in the state.

    Sources said what is more worrying is the ministry’s proposal which says that the FC Act won’t apply to tree plantations or afforestation’s on land that have not been specified as forest in the three categories till December 31, 2020. The changes in the law have been proposed to address issues that have cropped up after a Supreme Court order of December 12, 1996, which made it mandatory for seeking prior approval from the Centre for non-forest use of “any” forest land.