par­adise de­stroyed

A buf­fer zone of just 100 me­tres for the Okhla Bird Sanc­tu­ary - the only place in the world af­ter Nairobi to at­tract 400 bird species - could be dis­as­trous

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Estates - - FRONT PAGE - Van­dana Ram­nani van­dana.ram­nani@hin­dus­tan­times.com

It is a par­adise for our winged friends – the only zone af­ter Nairobi in Kenya, Africa, to at­tract over 400 species all year round and over 1 lakh mi­gra­tory birds from all over the world in win­ter. The Okhla Bird Sanc­tu­ary (OBS), 3.5 sq km of which is in Gau­tam Budh Na­gar, Ut­tar Pradesh, is an area of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance as it hosts 30% of the 1200 to 1300 species recorded in the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent!

Now, hu­man be­ings are all set to put their needs over that of the frag­ile ecosys­tem. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists dis­miss as “eye­wash” the UP govern­ment’s rec­om­men­da­tion to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests (MoEF) to change to 100 me­tres the eco-sen­si­tive zone limit be­tween OBS and build­ing projects in the area from the pre­vi­ous pro­posal of 1km. The in­tent seems to be to pro­tect builders and not the sanc­tu­ary. “Had there been projects at a dis­tance of 50 me­tres, the state govern­ment would prob­a­bly have set that as the limit – to prop­erly pro­tect a sanc­tu­ary, the limit should at least be 500 me­tres,” they say, adding that a smaller buf­fer zone would de­stroy the bird sanc­tu­ary.

The Supreme Court in a De­cem­ber 4, 2006, or­der had di­rected the MoEF, as a fi­nal chance, to ask states for pro­pos­als to no­tify ecosen­si­tive zones – to which the states had not re­sponded. “The state govern­ment first de­cides to set a limit for the ecosen­si­tive zone af­ter al­most seven years and then it de­cides to di­lute it twice in a span of a few months,” the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists add.

The sanc­tu­ary has been in the news due to the de­lay in hand­ing over of a num­ber of commercial and hous­ing projects for about one lakh res­i­dents close by. The Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) in its Oc­to­ber or­der last year had asked around 50 de­vel­op­ers with projects lo­cated close to the OBS, to stop con­struc­tion work as they did not have the req­ui­site en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances from the Na­tional Board for Wildlife. In April this year, the NGT had is­sued an or­der that for­bade Noida Author­ity from giv­ing com­ple­tion cer­tifi­cates to projects within a 10-kilo­me­tre ra­dius of the OBS, and so pos­ses­sion can­not be handed over in the projects in ques­tion.

It was also dur­ing this time that the UP govern­ment had sub­mit­ted its rec­om­men­da­tion for a 100-me­tre eco-sen­si­tive zone (Fe­bru­ary 25, 2014). Delhi also rec­om­mended in March this year that the node­vel­op­ment zone be fixed in the Cap­i­tal at 100 me­tres.

In April this year, the Supreme Court is­sued a judg­ment that re­viewed the limit set aside for min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the Goa Foun­da­tion case in 2006 from 10 km to 1 km (Goa Foun­da­tion vs Union of In­dia, April 21, 2014).

In­ter­est­ingly, the UP govern­ment first re­stricted 1 km ra­dius as eco-sen­si­tive zone. The af­fi­davit of the district for­est of­fi­cer, dated Au­gust 2013, states that “The district-level com­mit­tee un­der the chair­man­ship of district mag­is­trate, Gau­tam Budh Na­gar rec­om­mended that 1 km around the Okhla Bird Sanc­tu­ary should be de­clared as eco-sen­si­tive zone and has iden­ti­fied dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties that fall un­der pro­tected, reg­u­lated and per­mit­ted cat­e­gories”. In a later or­der in April 2014, it con­cluded that “it would be suf­fi­cient, if a 100me­tre ra­dius is fixed as the eco-sen­si­tive zone.” It is also stated in the April 2014 NGT or­der that the coun­sel ap­pear­ing for the UP govern­ment was “un­able to ex­plain on what ba­sis 100 me­tre ra­dius has been ar­rived at by the UP govern­ment. She (the coun­sel) has stated that such de­ci­sion has been taken in a sci­en­tific man­ner af­ter con­sult­ing var­i­ous au­thor­i­ties and the tri­bunal can­not find fault with such de­ci­sion taken by the state govern­ment in its wis­dom of tak­ing such de­ci­sions be­fore is­su­ing a no­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Their pro­pos­als are cur­rently with the MoEF, pend­ing ap­proval, and the min­istry has not as yet reached any con­clu­sion in terms of the buf­fer zone. An of­fi­cer from the min­istry, how­ever, has been quoted as say­ing that “we have re­ceived UP, Haryana and Delhi govern­ment’s pro­posal on the ecosen­si­tive zone dec­la­ra­tion. We are ex­pected to hold a meet­ing with the ex­pert tech­ni­cal team on this is­sue prob­a­bly next week. But we can­not spec­ify the ex­act date when the eco-sen­si­tive zone will be de­clared as it takes time. It will be done in com­pli­ance of the NGT or­der.”

Chetan Agar­wal, an en­vi­ron­ment an­a­lyst, says, “The or­der has said that the MoEF has to sit down with the three con­cerned state gov­ern­ments, and come to a con­clu­sion, and take their con­cur­rence. At the same time, it is a well­known fact that that state gov­ern­ments present a unan­i­mous view from the state - and these views typ­i­cally give pref­er­ence to real es­tate over wildlife. The for­est and wildlife de­part­ments of the state are not equal play­ers in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process, and if con­sulted, are of­ten brow­beaten into tak­ing the state line. It is not clear how bind­ing the di­rec­tion to seek con­cur­rence of the state is. If to­mor­row the UP govern­ment were to say that the eco-sen­si­tive zone should be 10 m, does it mean that MoEF will have to agree?”

A 100-me­tre limit is not ad­e­quate for the OBS, ar­gues Faiyaz A Khud­sar, a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist. In­ad­e­quate buf­fer and in­creased con­struc­tion work in the area will dis­turb nat­u­ral rain and wa­ter flow dur­ing the mon­soon. The build­ings would be like con­crete bar­ri­ers. The Kanha Na­tional Part has a core zone of about 900 sq km and a buf­fer zone of about 1000 sq km. Ex­otic and rare birds still fly to the OBS from all over the world de­spite rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and dis­charge of un­treated waste­water into the Ya­muna, leading to de­te­ri­o­rat­ing wa­ter qual­ity in the area. Re­duc­tion in the limit of the buf­fer zone will de­stroy the sanc­tu­ary com­pletely, he adds.

The OBS is the hub of mi­gra­tory birds and is a sig­nif­i­cant wet­land in it­self. It has to have a proper buf­fer zone if its flora and fauna have to be left undis­turbed. The over 300 species that ex­ist here, in­clud­ing ducks, pel­i­cans (Rus­sian) and painted storks, use the place as a for­ag­ing area. It is a win­ter des­ti­na­tion for mi­gra­tory birds from both east­ern and western Europe. The birds you get to see are ja­canas, which are wet­land birds, land birds or ter­res­trial birds such as bar­bets, horn­bills that breed here and owls and owlets which are most sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­tur­bances. Con­struc­tion will im­pact the sen­si­tive species more and even­tu­ally af­fect not just the num­bers but the di­ver­sity, too. The gen­er­al­ist species such as pi­geons, crows, my­nas that are adapt­able to hu­man pres­ence will even­tu­ally de­cline, points out Dr Mon­al­isa Sen, a sci­en­tist work­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

“A min­i­mum limit of 500 m should be main­tained,” adds Ma­hen­dra Pandey, an en­vi­ron­ment ac­tivist.

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