Okhla bird sanctuary case: respite likely for Noida home-buyers, developers

Environment ministry for quick settlement of eco-sensitive zone around bird habitat along the Yamuna in south Delhi

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Tuesday 12 August 2014

In October 2013, the ×National Green Tribunal cancelled environmental clearance of 49 real estate projects in and around ×Noida Extension after it emerged that builders had taken the clearances on false grounds (Photos: Vikas Choudhary)

Developers and home buyers in Noida, who feared losing their investments because of the National Green Tribunal's order stopping all construction within 10 km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, might get relief if the latest deliberations of the ministry of environment and forests and climate change (MoEFCC) get implemented.  The ministry is considering delineating the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around Okhla sanctuary, the zone where development activities are to be strongly restricted, in a way that is likely to resolve the problem for investors.

Over 70,000 flat buyers are affected by two orders of NGT, halting construction and prohibiting New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (Noida) from giving completion certificates to completed projects. An estimated 20,000 buyers have not been able to take possession of their flats because of the second order.

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Though the ministry has not divulged details of what it proposes, officials said “delineating a 10 km radius as the eco-sensitive zone around the Okhla sanctuary does not make sense”. Recognising the extent of development that has been going on for years now within 10 kms of the sanctuary—in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi—the ministry thinks that the most feasible option is to consider areas around the sanctuary with similar wetland habitat as the sanctuary. This means that only areas with wetland characteristics will be demarcated as ESZ.

If the ministry goes ahead with this proposal, it would be a big relief to the developers and home buyers in Noida as all the 49 projects affected by this order are outside wetland area. What's more, since all these projects have got environmental clearance (EC), they can resume their work as soon as ESZ is notified.

According to the ministry officials, the delineation of the ESZ is flexible. The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) in 2002 had decided that land falling within 10 km of the boundary of national parks and sanctuaries should be notified as ESZ. However, it revised its decision in March 2005 and said that delineation of eco-sensitive zones have to be site-specific where “specific” activities would be strongly “regulated” rather than “prohibited”. The MoEF notification of February, 2011, that specified guidelines for declaration of ESZ, further noted that many of the “existing protected areas have already undergone tremendous development in close vicinity to their boundaries.” Therefore, the task of “defining the extent of eco sensitive zones around protected areas has to be kept flexible and protected area specific,” the notification said.

NGT case

The order of the tribunal prohibiting development followed a petition filed before the central bench by Amit Kumar, a Noida resident, questioning construction work within 10 km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. “Such constructions were being carried out illegally without obtaining the required approval from the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL),” said Gaurav Kumar Bansal, counsel of the applicant. “Since government showed little concern for environmental laws and failed to take care of the sanctuary, the applicant had to move court,” he said.

In September last year, NGT stopped construction activity within 10 km radius of the Okhla sanctuary in Noida. Later in October, Noida authority was further prevented from giving completion certificates to construction projects falling within the prescribed area by the tribunal. In the interim order of October, the NGT also said that “all constructions within 10 km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary or within distance of eco-sensitive zone, as may be prescribed by the notification issued by Ministry of Environment and Forests, shall be subject to the decision of the NBWL”. The order noted that till the time the clearance of NBWL is obtained, the concerned authority shall not issue completion certificates to the projects.

In April 2014, NGT reiterated its previous order and directed MoEFCC and the Uttar Pradesh government to notify ESZ around the sanctuary.

Though NGT stopped all projects within a radius of 10 km from the sanctuary in Noida, it didn’t give any direction for projects in Delhi or Haryana. The bench has, however, asked the Delhi and the Haryana governments to submit proposals on notification of eco-sensitive zones.

Uttar Pradesh gets a say

In February this year, Uttar Pradesh (UP) submitted a proposal to the Union environment ministry, delineating100 m radius around the sanctuary as the eco-sensitive zone. Following submission by the state, the Wildlife Division of the ministry constituted a three member committee to visit the area and submit their observations. The team comprising of Shiv Pal Singh, joint director (wildlife) of MoEFCC, K K Singh, and divisional forest officer of the Gautam Buddh Nagar forest division and Nishith Saxena, divisional conservator of forest, Delhi, undertook a site visit on June 27 and submitted their report. Upon reviewing the report, the wild life division of MoEFCC has now asked the UP government to submit a revised proposal for delineating ESZ. Once such revision is received from the state, a notification will be issued by MoEFCC. “We are just waiting for the revised proposal from the UP government. We want to settle this issue quickly,” said a ministry official.

Timeline of the case before green tribunal

July 11, 2013

Case taken up by NGT

August 14, 2013

NGT directs NOIDA to identify the builders who have undertaken construction within 10 km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.

Order also mentions that if construction work is found to be going on within 10 km radius without proper EC or in contravention of the same, it shall be immediately stopped.

September 17, 2013

Preliminary inspection report submitted by NOIDA. Report notes that six out of 55 projects are outside the 10 km radius. Counsel says that for rest 49, they have obtained the necessary clearance and, therefore, there is no restriction on them from proceeding with the construction.

NGT asks for detailed report. Also says that order restraining construction without proper clearance shall be implemented and no further construction should be carried on with respect to the 49 projects.

October 28, 2013

Following submissions by NOIDA, it is noted that out of the 49 builders' projects within 10 km radius, for seven no project construction has started as the layout and building plans were yet to be sanctioned by the authority.  Fifteen projects are completed and completion certificates issued. For 25, EC has been received and two projects do not require EC as they are 0.6 and 0.8 hectares respectively.

NGT continued with restriction on construction activities, and also restricts issuance of completion certificate to developments within 10 km radius of the sanctuary.

Asks UP to send its proposal relating to the eco-sensitive zone with respect to Okhla sanctuary to MoEF within four weeks. MoEF to thereafter issue notification within a period of two weeks.

February, 2014

Uttar Pradesh (UP) submits a proposal on eco sensitive zone of 100 metre radius

March 18, 2014

MoEF writes to UP government with queries on the eco sensitive zone proposal

April 3, 2014

NGT reiterates that no permission shall be granted for new construction projects within 10 km radius of the Okhla sanctuary in Noida, until final orders are passed by it. Projects which are half way through, or have been completed, also cannot get a completion certificate until final orders are passed, NGT says.
Directs the Secretary of MoEF to decide on eco-sensitive zone for Okhla Sanctuary by discussing with concerned government officials.

June 27, 2014

A three member committee constituted by the Wildlife Division of the MoEF undertakes a site inspection of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. The report has been submitted and reviewed

August, 2014

Union ministry waiting for revised proposal from the UP government

Judgement of the National Green Tribunal regarding illegal and unauthorized construction works undertaken within a radius of 10 kms. from the boundary of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, 30/05/2014

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