Friday, April 25, 2014

Kamal Nath's parting gift to NCR builders

In an earlier post, last autumn, I wrote that entrenched interests were hoping to be able to convert parts of the NCR's reserved forests into real estate projects

"One day, he will make this into a landscape to rival Gurgaon, or Delhi, with bright lights everywhere.", 
a chowkidar told me in the Asola-Bhatti reserve forest. Naive old me said,
"Unlikely. The Central Government has declared this a nature reserve, and that's not going to change in a hurry."                   .

A piece appearing today in DNA this morning* suggests that our environment Minister of the next 21 days, Mr. Kamal Nath, is about to bequeath 500 hectares of forest land to builders. Ironically, this will be achieved by declaring 1 million hectares of land as a Natural Conservation Zone, thanks to a clause which permits 0.5% of such land to be allocated for construction of tourism facilities.

Clearly, the chowkidars of Asola-Bhatti knew a great deal more than I did about the fine details, and the coarse corruption, inherent in our environmental protection plans.

Here is the full text of the DNA piece, entitled :

500 hectares. Rs 50,000 crore. Kamal Nath and the builder lobby eye NCR forest land

(Raman Kirpal)

It is 10 am. In an hour from now, Union Urban Minister Kamal Nath will have the last roll of dice to change the landscape of Delhi NCR. At the stroke of 11, he, as chairman, is holding a full NCR Planning Board meeting at India Habitat centerer in Delhi today.
In the heat and dust of elections, Kamal Nath has called full NCR Planning Board meeting to radically change the 'land use' of the Haryana sub region plan. He wants the board to endorse his idea of declaring 10 lakh hectares of prime forest land a 'natural conservation zone'. This prime forest land is spread over Faridabad, Gurgaon and Aravali hills.
Sounds good on paper, doesn't it? But Natural Conservation Zone regulations permit construction on 0.5% land for tourism purposes. If you calculate 0.5% of 10 lakh hectares, it comes to 500 hectares of land
And here is the catch. Kamal Nath is opening the doors for builders' lobby to grab 500 hectares of prime land in Gurgaon, Aravali hills and Faridabad, and even by conservative land rates of the government, the cost of 500 hectares is no less than Rs 50,000 crore.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) had opposed Kamal Nath's move on environmental grounds. And the PMO had endorsed the MOEF's stand and had prevented the Union Urban Ministry from holding meetings in February and March in this regard.
However, Kamal Nath reportedly gained permission from the Election Commission to hold the NCR Planning Board meeting today to enact his last design. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is fully backing Kamal Nath on the issue.
This is happening despite the fact that the Supreme Court has declared this area as forest land under the Punjab Conservation Land Act. The apex court has even declared that protected area and wildlife sanctuaries, as is this 10 lakh hectares area, shall be treated as forest area and should be governed under the Forest Act. The Aravallis have wildlife and act as catchments for lakes in the area.
The Supreme Court has also declared that 10km of area around the forest should be notified as an eco-sensitive zone. Egged on by the builders' lobby, the Hooda government hasn't done so.
Kamal Nath's name had surfaced in a conversation with corporate lobbyist Niira Radia. Tarun Das, the former chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), told Niira over the phone that he had pitched ''big time'' for Kamal Nath for the surface transport portfolio.
"Highway construction and road construction is a big priority. He (Kamal Nath) is a doer. He can make his 15% in this. You can do national service and also make money…" said Das in the tapes. Radia had responded: "This (Surface Transport Ministry under Kamal Nath) is still an ATM."