Chandigarh: It is not just in the allotment of 350 acres of land to DLF Ltd in Wazirabad, Gurgaon that the Haryana government under former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda allegedly favoured the company with huge concessions. It also went out of its way to dilute zoning provisions in order to exempt this land from construction limits that apply to the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) of the NCR, documents accessed by The Wire show.
A substantial chunk of its Wazirabad allotment falls in the Aravalli hills – a key part of the NCZ – where construction beyond a limit of 0.5 per cent of its area is not permitted according to the National Capital Regional Plan 2021 (RP-21). Issued in 2005, the RP-21 is a blueprint for planned development in the NCR.
DLF intends to establish a ‘world-class leisure and recreational project’ on the land which includes residential and commercial utilisation also. Though ground truthing of the NCZ being done on the direction of the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) in Haryana is still not complete, environmental experts estimate that at least 250 acres of this land has some of the best forests in Gurgaon and should ordinarily come under the NCZ.
The environmentally fragile NCZ comprises forest areas, water bodies and river beds that the construction limits in place are intended to preserve.
Try, try again
On 24th April 2014, just before Lok Sabha elections, when the fall of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre seemed imminent, Haryana’s Director General, Town and Country Planning, wrote to the Member Secretary of the NCRPB stating that as zoning may put restrictions on the 350 acres project, it should be excluded from the NCZ. “A part of this project has been shown as NCZ which may impede its successful implementation. Designated land use qua this project should be reflected appropriately in the concerned map of Regional Plan”, the letter states.
The letter was written after it became clear that a Haryana government sponsored dilution of the 0.5 per cent construction limit in the NCZ, would not be allowed in the special meeting of the NCRPB that was set to take place on 25th April.
The Haryana government had been pushing for dilution of the NCZ zoning since 2013 (when the exercise for revising the RP-21 began) and managed to get the limit deleted in the draft revised RP-21 in June 2013. There was a hue and cry from environmentalists and citizen groups in Gurgaon following which the limit was reinstated in the draft plan but with a twist. A crucial amendment was added to the provision prohibiting construction of more than 0.5 per cent in the NCZ. This amendment provided for waiving the construction limit and made an exception for “tourism as per state policies.” In other words, if a tourism project was to be developed in the NCZ, it could breach the 0.5 per cent limit.
The amended provision in the draft RP-21, brought on the initiative of Haryana in January 2014, then read, “Regional Recreational Activities (including tourism as per applicable state policies) with no construction exceeding 0.5% of the area except with the specific permission of the Competent Authority under applicable environment and forest laws”.
However, just before the UPA government went out of office, in the April meeting of the NCRPB, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, (MoEF) – with the support of the Manmohan Singh-led Prime Minister’s Office – took a tough stand against its own Congress government in Haryana, after the matter was brought to the notice of the PMO by activists. The MoEF took the stand that as Haryana’s mega tourism policy allows residential and commercial real estate development up to 20 and 10 per cent respectively in 300 acres, the provision for tourism should be deleted. The fear was that the inclusion of ‘tourism’ would provide a foothold for real estate development within the NCZ.
Sources in Haryana say that as the Manmohan Singh PMO had backed the MoEF against the Kamal Nath-led Urban Development Ministry and the Haryana government led by Bhoopinder Singh Hooda – both members of the NCRPB – it was clear that the relaxations in construction given in the NCZ that were already under scrutiny would not be allowed, thus necessitating the letter seeking complete exclusion from the NCZ for the 350-acre Wazirabad land allotted to DLF for its “world class recreation project”.
The Haryana’s government’s plea for excluding DLF’s 350 acres Wazirabad land from the NCZ was ignored.
Success at last
Undeterred, the Hooda Government made one last effort in May, after the UPA had gone out of power. On May 28, it notified its Sub-Regional Plan 2021 for the Haryana part of the NCR, with the novel provision, on page 294, that the Aravalli hills would be part of the Natural Conservation Zone, except in urbanisable areas. In effect, rather than excluding specific projects, the state’s sub regional plan excluded the entire Aravalli hills in urbanisable areas from the zoning restrictions of the NCZ. The term ‘urbanisable area’ is an all-encompassing term that can apply to any area that the government wishes to urbanise by including it in any future or existing masterplan. Again, the first beneficiary of this provision would be the 250 acres of DLF’s leisure and recreation project in Wazirabad that fall in the Aravalli hills, and which are covered by the NCZ.
Gurgaon’s very vocal and active environmentalists have since last May been crying hoarse that this provision is a blatant violation of the NCR Regional Plan 2021 because the sub regional plans of member states have to be in accordance with its zoning.
Despite being in power for over six months the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana has still not removed this anomaly in the state’s Sub-Regional Plan 2021.