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Draft plan 'dilutes' guards for eco-sensitive zones (Nov)

The Times of India, New Delhi, 1st November, 2013
NEW DELHI: There is little hope for ecologically sensitive zones in the national capital region (NCR), including the Aravalis and the riverine ecosystems of Yamuna, Hindon, Sahibi and Kali.
National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) is revising its Regional Plan 2021, but the new draft plan seems to be " diluting" the only environmental safeguards the plan had. Urban planners and environmental experts critiqued the draft plan on Thursday and made a set of recommendations to the board.
Most experts said they were not quite sure why the plan was being revised. "There are many new things in the draft like air and water quality standards but why are existing clauses being diluted?" asked Chetan Agarwal, environmental analyst who was one of the organizers of the revision meet.
There are many loopholes in the draft but what has irked experts the most is that it talks of "guidelines for development activities" in natural conservation zones, including Aravali range in Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, and river floodplains. "If they are mentioning guidelines, they must be considering development in the region," he added.
Urban planners also felt that the time has come to merge environmental issues with other factors like rural development, transportation or land use. "All national environmental policies made after 2005 when the regional plan was first made should be incorporated. For instance there is a wetland conservation act now. There cannot be any construction in 50 metres around wetlands," said Asesh Maitra, former director of School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). He also stressed on inclusion of renewable energy use plans.
Other experts recommended that new regulations, including national environment policy, convention on biological diversity and disaster management act, be incorporated in the plan.
NCR falls under one of the 10 bio-geographical zones in India. "It's a semi-arid region with thorny forests and wetlands. These two dominant features of NCR, specially wetlands, need protection. We also need to identify keystone species of this region. For instance, in Sariska, the most important species is tiger and the entire habitat of the area revolves around it. Similarly we have to identify those extremely important species of NCR and incorporate these into the regional plan," said Meenakshi Dhote, professor of environmental planning, SPA.
But the draft plan doesn't factor in any of these biodiversity concerns. Dhote said the draft plan needed to look at People's Biodiversity Register that lists dominant biodiversity features of every region.
While the draft plan is extremely "weak", the existing plan has also not been implemented. Almost none of the master plans, including Gurgaon, has done land suitability analysis, said experts. "It's a basic process to see which area is suitable for what type of development," added Agarwal. There has been a 23% reduction in green areas and 35% increase in built-up areas in NCR from 1999 to 2002, according to an analysis of land-use change carried out by Agarwal. The 0.5% limit on construction for natural conservation zones has also not been implemented with a number of encroachments across Aravalis.
Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan pointed out, "The plan lists various types of waterbodies, including canals and lakes, but not johads (village ponds) which can play an important role in supplying water." He recommended that instead of focusing on dams, the idea should be to harness distributed reservoirs near rivers.