Three months after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) held that the 52-acre plot in the Faridabad Aravalis’ Sarai Khwaja village, where more than 7,000 trees were felled in 2017 for a group housing project being developed by Bharti Land Limited, is a “deemed forest,” the Haryana government has moved the Supreme Court pleading that NGT’s order is “erroneous in law” and should be quashed.

Haryana government’s appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court on Friday.

The Haryana government, in its appeal, said NGT’s “order is arbitrary, baseless and erroneous and if permitted to stand shall result in serious miscarriage of justice”.

The plea raises “questions of law” that includes whether any land can be declared deemed forest despite a different stand of the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) that is in the process of finalising the definition of forest; whether the enquiry report the NGT used to deliver its judgment is “illegal, vitiated and liable” to be rejected; among others.

The NGT had cited the reports of the Haryana forest department and MoEFCC’s regional office that said the area should be treated as a forest based on the density and nature of vegetation.

On February 22, the HT had reported that the MoEFCC had contradicted its own regional office’s report by stating that the plot is not a forest and backed the Haryana government’s stand that the area was not a forest in any revenue records.

The Haryana government in its appeal in SC has said “the tribunal relied on the enquiry report of regional office of MoEFCC with which MoEFCC itself did not agree… Tribunal did not give its own reasons to discard the stand of Haryana and MoEFCC, owner of the land and project proponent”.

Haryana additional advocate general Anil Grover, who is representing the state in SC, said, “Our main contention is that the plot is in Sector 43, is a residential area. It cannot be declared as a forest by any stretch of imagination. Plus, the additional chief secretary (forests) is the authority who can decide whether trees can be felled and whether it’s a forest land. No other body or official has the authority to decide.”

Responding to the development, Ritwick Dutta, advocate for the petitioner who had moved NGT, said, “Forest department has consistently taken a view that this is forest land. So has moefcc’s regional office. It’s rather surprising that the state and it’s forest department is now appealing against protection of forest land. It’s shows how much pressure the forest department is under.”

“The state has identified about 50,000 acres of Aravalli forests that could meet forest per dictionary meaning as directed by the Supreme Court in 1996, but has not finalised the process. This site of 52 acres is an example of that. The site was found to have 8,254 trees and rootstock with over 38,000 stems from forest department’s count,” independent forest analyst Chetan Agarwal said.

Bharti Land Limited did not respond to HT’s queries.

First Published: Jul 12, 2019 02:16 IST