Guarding India’s natural wealth
Buffer zones are a must to protect eco-sensitive areas and leave plants and animals undisturbed
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.
Sacred space: Eco-sensitive zones around national parks and sanctuaries act as shock absorbers for birds and animals