Guard­ing In­dia’s nat­u­ral wealth

Buf­fer zones are a must to pro­tect eco-sen­si­tive ar­eas and leave plants and an­i­mals undis­turbed

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Van­dana Ram­nani

The Okhla Bird Sanc­tu­ary (OBS) is spread across 3.5 sq km on the Delhi-Noida bor­der near the Kalindi Kunj Bar­rage. Builders were al­lot­ted land by the Noida Author­ity near the sanc­tu­ary in 2008. The 55 projects men­tioned in the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal (NGT) Oc­to­ber 2013 or­der are lo­cated in sec­tors 44, 45, 46, 50, 52, 76, 78, 94, 96, 97, 98, 107, 110, 120, 121, 122, 125, 127, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135 and 137.OBS was de­clared a pro­tected wildlife habi­tat on May 8, 1990, by the UP govern­ment un­der the In­dian Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act.

The mat­ter of cre­at­ing ecosen­si­tive zones around sanc­tu­ar­ies by states had ini­tially come up in the Goa Foun­da­tion case. The Supreme Court, in an or­der dated De­cem­ber 4, 2006, had di­rected the min­istry of en­vi­ron­ment and forests (MoEF) to ask states for buf­fer zone pro­pos­als, which the states did not re­spond to. The SC had also di­rected in that or­der that cases where en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances were granted for ac­tiv­i­ties within a 10 km ra­dius of the pro­tected zone would be re­ferred to the stand- ing com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Board for Wildlife (NBWL). It is im­por­tant to note here that un­til the time the states de­fine their eco-sen­si­tive zones, such pro­tected ar­eas are to be treated equiv­a­lent to 10km, as per the 2006 or­der. In the OBS, the builders had taken en­vi­ron­ment clear­ance from the UP gov­ern- ment but not from the Cen­tre.

An En­vi­ron­ment I mpact As­sess­ment ( EIA) no­ti­fi­ca­tion of 2006 says that if a bird sanc­tu­ary is no­ti­fied by a state un­der Sec­tion 18 A and if there is de­vel­op­ment in the eco-sen­si­tive area ( built- up area of more than 20,000 sq m), clear­ances have to be sought from both the State En­vi­ron­ment Im­pact As­sess­ment Author­ity (SEIAA) and the Cen­tral govern­ment com­mit­tee, the Na­tional Board for Wildlife. It will send its rec­om­men­da­tions to MoEF.

Ex­perts point out that the Noida Author­ity should have planned its mas­ter plan keep­ing in mind the fact that the Okhla sanc­tu­ary was a pro­tected site and in­formed the builders that they needed clear­ances from both the state and the Cen­tre. Builders got land near the sanc­tu­ary from the Author­ity in 2008.

The NGT had heard the plea ( in Au­gust 2013) of a Noida res­i­dent and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Amit Ku­mar to stop the al­legedly il­le­gal and unau­tho­rised con­struc­tion be­ing un­der­taken by builders within 10 km ra­dius of the OBS. In a pe­ti­tion filed through ad­vo­cate Gau­rav Ku­mar Bansal, he had con­tended that with­out prior NBWL or SEIAA clear­ance, around 55 builders were car­ry­ing out con­struc­tion work around the sanc­tu­ary. This, he had said, was against the Na­tional For­est Pol­icy and Con­ser­va­tion Strat­egy, 2002, which stated that 10 km (aerial dis­tance) ra­dius should be treated as an eco-sen­si­tive zone be­yond the pro­tected area as per the pro­vi­sions of the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act.

Eco-sen­si­tive zones around na­tional parks and sanc­tu­ar­ies act as “shock ab­sorbers” and a tran­si­tion zone from area of high pro­tec­tion to one need­ing less pro­tec­tion.

On Oc­to­ber 28, 2014, the tri­bunal had di­rected the Noida Author­ity to stop all con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity within 10 km of the OBS and asked the Cen­tral govern­ment to fix rules for buf­fer zones for sanc­tu­ar­ies.

On April 3, 2014, the NGT is­sued an or­der that for­bade Noida Author­ity f rom giv­ing com­ple­tion cer­tifi­cates to projects within a 10-kilo­me­tre ra­dius of the OBS.

It is fol­low­ing this or­der that de­vel­op­ers in Noida are un­able t o hand over more than 30,000 com­pleted homes ex­pected to house one lakh people. De­vel­op­ers claim they have in­curred losses of close to 1,000 crore since the tri­bunal’s first or­der in Oc­to­ber 2013 as they have been hold­ing on to the flats and pay­ing in­ter­est on buy­ers’ loans as well as penalty.

This week, the Supreme Court de­clined to in­ter­fere with the NGT or­der re­strain­ing the Noida Author­ity from is­su­ing com­ple­tion cer­tifi­cates to Jaypee In­frat­ech for its projects within 10km ra­dius of OBS. The court de­clined the builder’s plea chal­leng­ing the NGT or­der say­ing that MoEF was yet to take a de­ci­sion to de­mar­cate the bound­aries of the eco-sen­si­tive zone around the sanc­tu­ary as di­rected by the green bench.

HT FILE PHOTO

Sa­cred space: Eco-sen­si­tive zones around na­tional parks and sanc­tu­ar­ies act as shock ab­sorbers for birds and an­i­mals

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