AGAINST NATURE AND MAN THE WAY OUT
Ineffective implementation of regulatory provisions have led to realty projects being built on lake beds and near forests
Over 30,000 buyers of apartments located near t he protected Okhla Bird Sanctuary ( OBS) have been left high and dry following the National Green Tribunal’s order in April this year forbidding the Noida Authority from giving completion certificates to over 40 projects located within a 10-km radius of the OBS. This has delayed possession of the units.
The question is: who is to be blamed for the mess? The Uttar Pradesh government had declared the wildlife habitat ‘protected’ on May 8, 1990, under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. Despite that the authority went ahead and allotted land to builders in 2008. What was perhaps overlooked here was the absence of a buffer zone. The Supreme Court had way back in 2006 directed states to define their eco-sensitive zones and said that such protected areas be of at least 10 km. It was only this year that UP submitted its proposal for a 100- m ecosensitive zone to the ministry of environment and forests.
Unfortunately, this is not t he only case. I nef f ective implementation of regulatory provisions have all along led to all sorts of illegal practices in the NCR with projects coming up on a lake bed and a nallah, both of which act as a natural water reservoir and a drainage system. Developers have allegedly acquired land in and near forest reserves and even an ammunition depot. Even in areas where the master plan has been notified and which have been specifically earmarked for recreational and public utilities, the land use has been surreptitiously changed to residential and the land has been handed over to the builder. In one case, even the authority concerned attempted to develop a golf course in an area marked as green in its master plan.
The environment is definitely impacted by unclear policies which are often misused by builders. A developer in Gurgaon has built a mall on a 20 to 30 ft nallah (drain) meant to be a natural water path that drained the upstream water in the area – leading to risk of flooding during the monsoons. Another developer, again in the Millennium City, has built a residential complex on a lake bed - the Ghata – a seasonal reservoir documented in the Gazette of India (1883). The water which collected here would earlier be used for recharging ground water. In the absence of an outlet, there is danger of flooding in the basements of the apartments that have come up here.
Vandna Menon, an environmentalist, says that there is an important irrigation department rule related to flooding. Water cannot be pumped out of a certain geographical area. So what happens if water floods the basements of the new apartment blocks on the river bed or in the area around the nallah?
The matter related to the lake bed is complicated. After private real estate players purchased the land, the town and country planning department of Haryana, while drawing up the GurgaonManesar Urban Complex Master Plan 2021 (issued in 2007), did not undertake land suitability analysis as required under the regional plan 2021 (issued in 2005 by NCRPB). Neither did the department identify the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ) which was to include major water bodies, forests, Aravallis, recharge zone etc. Instead, department officials zoned the lake bed as a residential sector, ignoring feedback from the irrigation department – which owned the bund (wall built near the lake to prevent flooding) - and protested against construction in the submergence area. Once the zoning was done, and third party licences issued in favour of the builder, who managed to get some kind of an environment clearance, there was a very short window to challenge the same. Sector 5 Sector 6 Sector 7 Sector 8 Sector 9