A delegation of Congress MLAs, led by former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and including senior Congress leaders Karan Singh Dalal, Geeta Bhukkal and Phool Chand Mullana, among others, urged the governor to return the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2019 and not give his assent. “Seeking his immediate intervention, we also urged him to order a high-level probe, so that those who stand to gain due to the amendment to the Act are exposed,” Hooda said, on March 5, 2019.
“We apprised the governor that even the top environmentalists have expressed fear that if the Aravalis’ forest cover is tinkered with, it can play havoc with the environment of Delhi, Gurugram and Faridabad. These cities are already facing pollution problem and can become gas chambers,” he said. The Congress delegation also sought dismissal of the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government, alleging that it ‘neither cares for the environment, nor respects the courts’. “We told the governor that there is a big scam involved here. With the passage of the amended bill, builders and land sharks stand to profit a great deal due to the changed act. A probe can dig out the truth in this regard,” he said.
Punjab Land Preservation Bill: SC raps Haryana for allowing construction in Aravalli hills
The Supreme Court came down heavily on the Haryana government, for passing amendments to the Punjab Land Preservation Act, which allows construction in Aravalli hills, saying the step will destroy the forest
March 4, 2019: A Supreme Court bench of justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta, on March 1, 2019, asked the Haryana government not to take any further action on the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2019, which allows construction in Aravalli hills and termed it ‘shocking’ that the government had taken this step, despite being told earlier by the apex court not to do so. The top court was dealing with a matter in which it had earlier directed demolition of illegal constructions in the forest area of Aravalli hills in Haryana.
“You are not supreme and supreme is the rule of law,” the bench told the counsel appearing for Haryana and asked the state not to take any action on the law allowing constructions in Aravalli area. “It is really shocking. You are destroying the forest. It is not permissible,” the court said, adding that ‘it is sheer contempt’. The bench observed it had earlier asked Haryana not to allow any construction in forest area of Aravalli but despite that the state went ahead with it. On February 27, 2019, the Haryana Assembly had passed amendments to an act, opening up thousands of acres of land to real estate and other non-forest activity that were protected under it for over a century.
The top court had, in January 2019, extended till July 31, the deadline for house owners, whose buildings were ordered to be demolished due to illegal constructions in the forest area of Aravalli hills, to vacate their premises, subject to furnishing of undertaking in this regard. The court had said the 33 house owners in Faridabad’s Kant Enclave, who were earlier directed by the apex court to vacate their premises by March 31, 2019, would get time till July 31, 2019, if they file undertaking that they would vacate the properties by then.
On September 11, 2018, the apex court had termed as ‘frightening’, the illegal construction in the forest area of Aravalli hills and directed the Haryana government to demolish the unauthorised structures built there after August 18, 1992. The court had lashed out at the Haryana government and said the construction activity carried out by R Kant and Company, a private realtor who was a party to the case, was clearly in violation of the August 18, 1992 notification and also in blatant defiance of the court’s orders. The 1992 notification issued under the provisions of the Punjab Land Preservation (PLP) Act had prohibited clearing or breaking up of land not ordinarily under cultivation.
Amid protests Haryana assembly passes amendments to Punjab Land Preservation Bill
The Haryana assembly has passed amendments to the Punjab Land Preservation Act, in a move that is likely to open up protected land to real estate development
February 28, 2019: Amid vociferous protests and walkout by the opposition, the Haryana assembly, on February 27, 2019, passed amendments to an act, opening up thousands of acres to real estate and other non-forest activity that were protected under it for over a century. Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2019, defended the move as the ‘need of the hour’, saying that it was a ‘very old’ act and much had changed over time.
During the nearly one-hour debate on the legislation, the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) alleged that the bill had been brought by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, to favour the mining mafia and real estate developers, by allowing construction in areas where it was previously disallowed, a charge rejected by the treasury benches.
The Punjab Land Preservation Act was enacted before partition by the then Punjab government in 1900, as per statement of objects of the bill. It provided for the conservation of subsoil water and/or prevention of erosion in areas found to be subject to erosion or likely to become liable to erosion. The orders and notifications issued under Section 4 and/or 5 of the Act extend to approximately 10,945 sq kms, accounting roughly for about 25 per cent area of Haryana. It covers, wholly or partly, 14 out of the state’s 22 districts.
Justifying the amendment, Khattar said a vast proportion of the area covered under the Act include privately-owned lands and those that have traditionally been under agriculture and other non-forestry uses like public infrastructure. The chief minister said a number of changes had come to force over a period of time, with various interpretations of the PLPA provisions from time to time. “These have also led to large tracts of agriculture, public infrastructure, residential, institutional, commercial and other users becoming liable to be considered as unauthorised activities and unlawful uses, even where these were explicitly permitted and came up strictly in conformity and in accordance with the then existing applicable law governing such land use and activities undertaken thereupon,” as per the statement of objects of the bill. In this scenario, lakhs of dwelling units, commercial buildings, industrial units, public buildings, massive public infrastructure and agriculture activities, over about one-fourth of the geographical area of the state, are affected. Hence, the need was felt for amending the PLPA, Khattar said.
The opposition, which demanded that the PLPA be withdrawn or put on hold till a house committee examines it, staged a brief walkout when it was being passed. Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and senior Congress leader Raghuvir Singh Kadian, demanded that an assembly committee be formed to examine the bill. Senior INLD leader Parminder Dhull asked what was the ‘hidden agenda’ of the BJP government in bringing this bill. Congress Legislature Party leader Kiran Chowdhary said the state’s forest cover was already depleting. “If the amendment is passed, southern Haryana, especially those near Aravalli mountain range will face desertification,” Chowdhary said.
Congress member Karan Singh Dalal claimed that the amendment would also grant legitimacy to the Kant Enclave in Faridabad, built on the PLPA-notified land and which was ordered to be demolished by the Supreme Court. “This is going to be biggest scam of five-year BJP government, which will favour builders and realtors, this bill should be taken back,” Dalal said. Dalal, however, said he did not have reservation if government had brought this bill ‘to save Kant Enclave, but other serious environmental consequences which the legislation may have on the Aravallis, needs to be kept in mind’. Congress MLA Lalit Nagar wondered why such a bill had been introduced that would have ‘catastrophic’ impact on the environment. “The Supreme Court has also ordered against allowing any non-forest activity in the area. Even if this bill is passed, courts will strike it down,” Nagar said.