While builders and lakhs of investors may be rejoicing over the Centre’s latest move on eco-sensitive zone around Okhla Bird Sanctuary, a threatened haven for migratory and resident birds, environmental activists, analysts and lawyers see red over the ‘arbitrary and illogical’ decision of the government.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests on Tuesday approved the new draft notification under which the ESZ will range from 1.27 km on the northern boundary of the sanctuary and 100 metres on the others.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had said, “The unanimous decision was to keep the ESZ within reasonable limits keeping in mind the property developers who had already started constructing housing projects within 10 km radius of the sanctuary and home buyers had also started paying EMIs for the houses purchased here.”
Environment activist Gaurav Bansal who moved National Green Tribunal for declaration of ESZ around the sanctuary feels the Centre has cared for the consumer and saved projects of high-profile builders. In five years, there will be no birds here. I am mulling to challenge this order.”
Environment activist Vikrant Tongad who had some years ago moved RTI to know number of projects around the sanctuary says, “The draft order is a virtual death sentence. One must ask how the Noida authority gave the permission in the first place even before the case reached the courts. This is very disheartening. Now we will have malls and houses for the high and mighty there.”
Ritwick Dutta, a noted environmental lawyer who also raised voice against the same government’s haste in amending the green laws, says, “The environment minister is acting as the urban development minister in saying so. The government has kept ESZ as 100 metres on southern, eastern and western side to protect the projects and it is 1.27 km on the northern side because there is no such construction there.”
Anand Arya, a noted environmental activist and a birder who spent over a decade frequenting the sanctuary for as many as 100 times in a year is mulling moving court against the Centre’s “absolutely arbitrary” decision.
“As far as technicalities are concerned, it is for the DM to conduct a study of the area and collect data. This data should have been sent to National Board for Wildlife but the same was not done. The whole thing has been done without any base. On the northern side of the Sanctuary, there are flood plains. All of it should have been covered within the ESZ. The whole of river area extending into Haryana should have been included. The ESZ should have gone upto DND on the eastern side,” says Mr Arya.
Environment analyst Chetan Aggarwal also shares the view that “Centre could have extended the ESZ to save the floodplains and also put restrictions to ensure that in future structures like Akshardham etc do not come up there. They could have also come up with more restrictions on the nature of construction like no glass etc.”
D.K.Joshi, an activist fighting against illegal construction in Soor Sarovar Bird sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh says, “If the Centre is concerned for builders and buyers who have invested money in projects around Okhla Bird Sanctuary, then even a thief should be forgiven for he might be stealing to feed his chidren.”