GURUGRAM: A farmhouse can’t be built surreptitiously, let alone 50. But in a protected area, they did come because the developers did not feel the need to hide anything. No one stopped them, either from turning protected rocky terrain into manicured properties, or flattening an entire hill to build a service road.

There are laws and various court orders that protect the Aravalis because of their central role in maintaining the ecological balance of the region, but on the ground, at the most elementary level of enforcement of these laws and orders, there is an unwritten, unspoken ‘policy’ of looking the other way. That’s why violations of the construction ban are so widespread. The complex legal nature of Aravali land is a factor – though they come under the umbrella of environmental laws, most of Aravali land is with private owners.
Even in areas that don’t come under environmental laws or are protected by court orders, anyone seeking to undertake construction needs to take multiple permissions from different government agencies. If the site happens to be in the Aravalis, but doesn’t come under the ambit of laws, one needs to apply for change of land use (CLU), a development licence, submit a building and zoning plan, and apply for environmental clearance. In a controlled area like Bandhwari, where a hill has been flattened to build an approach road for farmhouses that have been illegally built, these permissions cannot be given.
Environmentalists and senior government officers accuse a few “corrupt” officials in various departments of collusion in letting Aravali land pass into private hands and allowing construction. “Construction has been going on for nearly a year in Bandhwari. Why wasn’t an FIR registered against those responsible for the destruction of greenery?” said a senior government official.
The Bandhwari area comes under the Aravali Notification and is a natural conservation zone (NCZ), which is crucial for groundwater recharge. According to environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal, the area where the farmhouses are being developed is full of “seasonal” nullahs.
“Such areas are ideal for wildlife habitat. They are also important groundwater recharge zones in the Aravali foothills. Instead of protecting such ‘forest’ areas, the state government has been encouraging real estate development by playing ‘definitional’ games — what is Aravalli, what are its foothills, etc.”
In 2004, the Supreme Court had observed that “the Aravalis should be saved at all costs”, and directed the state government to identify and protect it. “But even after 16 years, the government has failed to identify the Aravali area and no policy has been put in place for its protection,” Agarwal said.
The area where the farmhouses have been built is less than 2km from the Mangar bani buffer zone, a 500-metre protected area around the sacred grove that was declared a no-construction zone by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in 2016.
Lt Col Sarvadaman Singh Oberoi (Rtd), an Aravali activist, said there is a need for a dedicated hotline number or a mobile app, where citizens and government departments can upload the violations on record — so all agencies concerned are informed and they can take appropriate action. “The Bandhwari hills and foothills recorded as gair mumkin pahar (uncultivable hill) and bhood (foothill), respectively, and include part of the Mangar bani core and buffer zones. This area should be protected for future generations,” he said.
According to a government official, construction activities are going on at multiple places in the Aravali areas of Gurugram and Faridabad. “The Aravalis are the last vestige area of Haryana and its destruction poses a grave threat to the ecology of the area and groundwater resource,” the official said.
The SC had in 1992 formed the Lovraj committee for the protection of Delhi portion of the Aravalis, and it led to the formation of the Delhi Ridge Management Board. “Permission from the board was made mandatory for any construction. A similar type of setup is also required for the management of the Aravalis in Haryana,” the official added.

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