Gurgaon Set To House Haryana's Only Eco-Sensitive Zone
Meeting environmentalists' long-overdue demand, the Gurgaon administration has decided to expand the ambit of the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) to include wastelands situated in the Aravalli foothills and water bodies like old nallahs, lakes, etc.
Gurgaon will be the first city to have a delineated NCZ under a separate zone under the NCR Regional Plan, 2021, which in 2005 identified various eco-sensitive areas that will become the extension of the Aravalli ridge.
As a result of the move, forest areas, tributaries of the Yamuna, lakes, and water bodies in Rajasthan, National Capital Territory of Delhi, and Haryana, will come under the purview of this area.
Apart from this, Mount Abu, Mahabaleshwar and Panchmarhi are a few areas in the country that have already been declared ecologically sensitive.
National Capital Region Planning Board
Though Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are part of the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), these states have failed to provide an NCZ in their sub-regional plans and master plans in the past decade.
Environment Impact Assessment
With dwindling water resources, the NCZ concept is highly relevant today, as many concrete structures come up on wetlands, gullies, ravines, foothills, storm water drains, etc, thereby disrupting the replenishment of ground water. An assessment should be mandatorily conducted on mega residential and commercial projects to ascertain the environmental damage the project may cause.
Green Belts vs NCZ
The two are not interchangeable. The green belts as mentioned in the master plan are man-made landscaped plantations that primarily have an aesthetic function, whereas the NCZ is a natural area that not only has plantations but also serves the crucial function of recharging the ground water and maintaining the water table. Green belts are artificial, while NCZs are natural; a garden can't be a substitute for a forest.
National Green Tribunal
Ignoring the importance of the NCZ, the Haryana government had decided to reduce the area under NCZ from 95,000 hectares to 42,000 hectares. This meant a reduction of nearly 50,000 hectares and included water bodies, wetlands, and forests.
A petition challenging this action was filed by environmentalists before the NCT. Subsequently, the NCT issued a notice to the state government, asking it to explain the reason behind the drastic step.
Timeline: The journey so far
2005: The NCR Regional Plan 2021 mooted the concept of NCZ. Identified as the extension of the Aravalli ridge, eco-sensitive areas of Haryana, Rajasthan, NCT Delhi, such as forests, rivers and their tributaries, lakes, sanctuaries, etc, comprised the eco-zone.
2007: The Gurgaon Master Plan, 2021, passed in 2007, was a disappointment as it did not mention anything about the NCZ.
2010: Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex Master Plan, 2025, was cleared but it, too, failed to mention anything about the NCZ.
2012: Gurgaon-Manesar Urban Complex Master Plan, 2031, included the NCZ as a land-use area. The Aravallis were recognised as part of the NCZ but its urbanised areas were excluded from its scope.
2016: The Gurgaon authorities included the Aravalli ridge areas, wastelands and water bodies in the NCZ.
As rules permit minimal activities under the NCZ, the area can be preserved in its natural form. Pisciculture, horticulture, agriculture, social forestry, afforestation and creation of more water collection points like lakes, though, are allowed.
Palaeo-channels (old nallahs), wastelands and water bodies will encompass the NCZ. The sub-regional plan for Haryana and NCR is still pending and the master plans of the respective cities need to be amended for proper implementation of the NCZ concept.
Where the authorities have already granted permission for construction on ground water recharge areas, the permission is likely to be revoked if such areas form a part of the NCZ under the sub-regional plan.
However, it will be difficult to implement the NCZ concept in areas where construction is over and a decision could be taken only after considering the larger public interest.
What about other states?
Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana have for long remained inactive as far as NCZ is concerned.
It was in October, 2014, that Gurgaon administration had provided for the NCZ. By excluding the Aravallis from the scope of the NCZ, the Millennium City had earmarked about 600 hectares, as against 20,000 hectares identified by NCRPB.
Other states have still not moved ahead to implement the NCZ. They have a considerable area that will fall under water drains and wetlands. Many regions are making the plea that they do not have foothills like Haryana. That is a flawed reason because foothills are just one component of the NCZ concept.
The NCZ concept would not only maintain ground water table but also control floods, conserve the environment by protecting forests, and promote sustainable development.