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NCR PBC Pushed Developers for Tourism in Aravalis

14th Mar 2014., The minutes of an NCR Planning Board Committee (PBC) meeting to consider changes in the regional plan reveal how hard Haryana pushed for opening up the state's fragile conservation zones, such as the Aravalis, for tourism.


Out of the nine references made in the meeting by the Haryana town and country planning secretary T C Gupta, seven were filed by real estate developers — all presenting arguments for opening up the zones of tourist activities and giving a free hand to the state governments in these areas.


Haryana has the largest share of the ecologically fragile Aravalis in the National Capital Region (NCR). Environmentalists have raised alarm over the proposals to open up these areas for commercial activities and raising the limit of constructions beyond the current 0.5%.


The minutes of the 62 planning committee meeting of NCRPB, held on December 20, 2013, were obtained through RTI by Colonel S S Oberoi of NGO, Mission Gurgaon Development.


Not once did the Haryana official mention any of the concerns raised by environment activists, who had suggested that there should be no dilution in the old provisions.


The original regional plan-2021 capped construction at 0.5% of the nature conservation zones (NCZ) and only regional recreational activities were allowed.


The minutes reveal that the planning committee in its previous meeting in June 2013 had discussed reconsidering the proposal to retain the limits of construction up to a maximum of 0.5% in NCZs for regional recreational activities. It was then decided that the modification would allow "regional recreational activities after obtaining environmental clearance from the competent authority".


In the December meeting, after the chief regional planner said there were several objections and media reports on the likely dilution of norms in the NCZs, the member secretary asked members to deliberate the issue. Haryana's town and country planning secretary T C Gupta suggested that 0.5% restriction on construction in NCZ be made applicable outside notified urbanizable areas.


However, the chief regional planner proposed that 0.5% restriction on construction in NCZ be incorporated in order to safeguard the environmentally sensitive areas from urbanization. After deliberations, planning committee decided that the section would be modified as "regional recreational activities with no construction exceeding 0.5% of the area except with specific permission of the competent authority under applicable environment and forest laws".


But then came the twist. Gupta referred to nine specific suggestions, seven of which were filed by real estate players to push for allowing tourism activities in the NCZs. On December 30, TOI had highlighted how all the real estate players had made similar suggestions, which were replications of each other. All these players sought that the provision for allowing regional recreational activities "after obtaining environmental clearance from competent authority" be changed to "regional recreational activities as per state government tourism policies after obtaining environmental clearance from competent authority".


Despite contrasting views recorded in the minutes, the planning committee recommended allowing tourism in these sensitive zones. However, it did excluded the clause "as per state policy". Finally, in the last board meeting, Haryana pushed for the inclusion of this provision as well and Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath approved the proposal.


Meanwhile, citizens' groups have written to the Election Commission to review its decision to allow the NCR board to hold a meeting where the proposal to clear Haryana's sub-regional plan will come up.


"There are serious concerns of citizens regarding preserving forests and green covers in Aravali ranges...Let the objections of all concerned stakeholders be settled, otherwise in the garb of tourism the Aravali range will turn into concrete jungles and commercial hubs," says a letter issued by Confederation of NCR RWAs.