With draft NCR 2041 plan, sentient Aravalis remain vulnerable
- The Draft NCR Regional Plan 2041 is proposed to replace the NCR Regional Plan 2021 which has been in effect since 2005. Rolled out by the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), the draft has been condemned to be regressive and threatening the air quality, groundwater recharge, forest cover and wildlife habitat of 25 districts in 4 states.
- The draft plan which was amended after input from state governments, proposed to replace the Natural Conservation Zones (NCZ) with a Natural Zone (NZ). Other changes in nomenclature could threaten certain sensitive areas of the NCR.
- The plan empowers state governments to decide the fate of natural resources.
The draft National Capital Region (NCR) 2041 Regional Plan is proposed as the next iteration of the NCR’s 2021 Regional Plan, which has been in effect since 2005. The draft plan is positioned as a long-term plan term for the development of the region – which includes the national capital Delhi and some districts of the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – with a citizen-centric infrastructure that aims to be in line with global goals sustainable development (SDGs).
Rolled out by the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), the draft, which was released in late 2021 and open until early this year to public opinions and suggestions, has been criticized by the environmental community to be regressive and threatening to air quality. , groundwater recharge, forest cover and wildlife habitat in the 25 districts of the region.
While the plan promises to bypass development in the area while balancing the ecology, it has been touted as a blow to the conservation of the Aravali hill range which has been fighting for its survival for decades.
In the 2041 version of the plan, the term “natural area” now refers to geographical features such as mountains, hills, rivers, bodies of water and forests that must be notified for conservation under central laws. or national, and must be recognized as such in land registers. With this update, it limits retention to only features that are (a) notified under national/central laws and also (b) recognized in revenue records. In addition, a body of water can be considered in the “natural zone”, according to the draft plan, only if it is “created by the action of nature”, which threatens the majority of water bodies. of the NCR because they have a human element in their creation. The previous version of the plan used the term Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) which has now been changed to Natural Zone (NZ). An area classified as NZ does not require mandatory conservation like NCZ does, say conservationists. This is particularly important given that the sensitive ecosystem of Aravalis is currently referred to as NCZ. Also, note conservationists, New Zealand’s determination by land or tax records will exclude over 80% of forests, Aravalis and even rivers, floodplains and water bodies. Only a few meet both the proposed criteria for notification and presence in the revenue registers. For example, most of the hilly areas of Aravali in Haryana are not notified as forests, even revenue records list them as ‘Gair Mumkin Pahar’ (uncultivable land) and ‘Bhood’ (area of sandy soil). Nearly 50,000 acres of Aravalis in Haryana have yet to be notified as deemed forests under a law removing them from protection under the new 2041 plan.
Additionally, forest area has decreased from 4.02% reported in the NCR’s 2021 plan to 3.27% under the 2041 plan. Even the target, “total forest cover proposed to be 10 % of the total area of the NCR Regional Plan 2021 region” has been dropped from the new 2041 plan. This has placed forest conservation or reforestation off the priority list.
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The plan empowers state governments to decide the fate of natural resources.
The new plan has raised environmentalists who say the regional plan is a guiding document for sub-regional plans that state governments develop. They fear that if the guiding document itself is watered down, then states may water it down further, threatening the Aravalis and other crucial natural ecosystems in four northern Indian states, namely Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar. Pradesh.
“The new plan will have a negative impact on the sustainability of the NCR region and will prove fatal for Aravalis. Over 3220 citizens, environmentalists, conservationists and environmental organizations across India had emailed all concerned including the NCRPB with objections. We demand our right to forests, clean air and water security,” said Neelam Ahluwalia, founding member of the Aravali Bachao Citizens Movement.
“Aravali is our only water and air refill area. Destroying it and then turning it into ecotourism centers will not help. We will be heading for an ecological disaster if this plan is implemented and it must be undone. Moreover, it defies many legal precedents,” said Lt. Col. (Retired) Sarvadaman Singh Oberoi, an environmental activist, adding that agencies such as the NCRPB do not prioritize the environment, even though it is This is a key priority in the Prime Minister’s speeches.
With hustle and bustle around the plan, the last meeting of the NCR board of directors, which was to approve the plan’s implementation, was cancelled. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s office, reacting to strong objections from all quarters, requested a response from the NCRPB and the Ministry of Urban Affairs on the draft 2041 regional plan document which was finalized despite criticism from the Ministry of environment and the objections of a large number of citizens. .
The Aravalis is the oldest mountain range and a diverse ecosystem stretching about 692 km across Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan. According to central government records, 31 hills or 25% of the Aravalis have already been lost to illegal mining, deforestation and encroachment. The state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan have always been criticized for their repeated attempts to dilute its conservation.
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Banner image: Despite the ban, illegal mining activities continue to degrade the Aravalis. Photo of the citizen movement Aravali Bachao.