The Supreme Court order on June 10 dismissing a plea by real estate firm Jaypee Infrastructure that the Noida Authority grant completion certificates for its constructions projects located in a yet-to-be delineated “eco-sensitive area” of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary has put the ball back in the State Government’s court.

Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s order of April this year that new projects within 10-km radius of Okhla Bird Sanctuary shall not be cleared unless the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) has given No Objection Certificate will continue to be in place.

In October 2013, the NGT had passed orders that no construction activity to be permitted within 10-km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and for projects already completed, the construction shall be subject to final order passed by the Tribunal and the authority shall not give any completion certificate to such constructed buildings.

For buildings half-way through, the construction was allowed to go on subject to final order to be passed by the Tribunal. In its orders in April this year, in a PIL in the 2004 Goa Foundation versus Union of India case, the Tribunal said any decision taken by the government is subject to final decision by the Supreme Court.

Jaypee Infrastructure, one of over 40 developers having projects in this zone close to Okhla Bird Sanctuary, had filed a petition in the SC claiming that the NGT had misinterpreted the SC’s decision in the Goa Foundation case in declaring 10-km radius of national parks and sanctuaries as the eco-sensitive area. “Let the Central Government take a decision on this issue,” said the SC Bench while dismissing the pleas by Jaypee Infrastructure.

In March 2005, the NBW decided that delineation of eco-sensitive zone would be site specific “and regulatory in nature rather than prohibitory”. Okhla Bird Sanctuary was declared a “protected area” by the U.P. Government in 1990 but there has been no decision by the U.P. Government and NBW on what the eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary will be. Earlier, the SC while responding to the PIL in Goa Foundation case in 2004, had asked the Government of India to convene a meeting of the State governments to decide about the “eco-sensitive area” and said that in the meantime, the radius of 10 km was to be treated as “eco sensitive area”.

“In September 2013, the U.P. Government said the eco-sensitive zone will be been fixed as 1 km but even this was affecting a number of real estate projects. Then, this January they gave 100 metres radius as the criteria but this is yet to be accepted by NBW,” said Gaurav Bansal, petitioner in NGT.

In March this year, the MoEF sent queries to the U.P. Government for comments on the proposal related to issues like site specificity etc. In April, the Tribunal pointed out that the U.P. Government was yet to reply to MoEF. It said that based on the judgment of the SC, if a 10-km radius around Okhla sanctuary was delineated, not just areas in U.P., but areas in Haryana and Delhi will be within the radius too. “It is not for the Tribunal to put any embargo on the powers of the State government if it decided to fix the limit of eco-sensitive zone. However, such decisions of the State governments are subject to the final decision of the SC,” read the April order.

“Environmental laws and statutes are unnecessarily getting a bad name because of poor environmental governance in the country. There was no reason for both the State of U.P. and the MoEF to delay the notification of the Ecological Sensitive Area/ Zone around the Okhla Bird Park. This must be done immediately,” said environmentalist Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.

The article has been updated to correct the name of NGT petitioner as Gaurav Bansal.

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