By Uzma Shamim:
The Okhla Bird Sanctuary situated at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border is known to be a retreat for 300 species. The diversity found there is something that is highly appreciated and preserved by bird watchers and environment enthusiasts alike. However, in the recent times the Okhla Bird Sanctuary has been embroiled in a complex web of controversies involving the twin issues of environmental preservation versus developmental projects.
In 2005, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) had declared that no construction projects shall be carried out in an ambit of 10 km around sanctuaries as the area was deemed as an Ecologically Sensitive Zone. However the area around Okhla Bird Sanctuary, namely Noida, witnessed exponential growth during that period and, a spiraling of construction projects around that area. In October 2013, seeing the threat towards the sanctuary, the National Green Tribunal ordered authorities to restrict the handing over of completed projects to residents, or any other kind of projects within a 10 km radius of the sanctuary. This further escalated into a bigger conflict since a large number of people had made payments for flats in the numerous housing societies under the restricted list. Following this the NGT asked for the case to be referred to the NBWL for a specific demarcation of an Eco-Sensitive zone around Okhla. In September 2014, the Ministry drafted a proposal in which, as opposed to the earlier 10 km radius, the new Eco-sensitive zone would encompass an area of 100m from the eastern, western and southern boundaries of the sanctuary and 1.27km from the northern boundary. On August 18, 2015 the Standing Committee of the NBWL approved the Draft notification for the new boundaries of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
The bone of contention here is the harmful impact this move will have on the different varieties of birds in the sanctuary. A lessening of the area under the Eco-sensitive zone translates into a greater degree of interference in the natural habitat of birds. Delhi is already a mess of pollution and contamination, the approval of measures like this by the government spells further trouble. The building of skyscrapers close to the Sultanpur National Park and Bird Sanctuary and the pollution at the Najafgarh Drain Basin had left the Okhla Bird Sanctuary as the only haven.
The bird population in Delhi has steadily declined over the ages- species like the Lesser Florican and the MacQueen Bustard were last sighted in 1970’s. Birds are dependent on surrounding areas for feeding and with the escalation of construction projects the birds of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary will be deprived of food resources. To add further to the controversy, the government also cleared the project involving the widening of the NH7, because of which around 3,394 of the 3,600 trees had already been cleared by May. If this is the rate at which the government is going to deal with sustainable development, then the future generation will have a difficult time in dealing with resource generation. In contention to this is the perspective of the people, who bought flats around that area. Many of them have started paying EMIs for their respective purchases. Manoj Rai, officer-on-special-duty, Noida Authority said, “Following the notification, the process of issuing these certificates has begun. The last few months have seen a lot of negativity in the market. People who had invested in these projects were running from pillar-to-post. Within two weeks or a fortnight, all completion certificates will be issued by the Authority. These projects include 36,000 flats and 5-6 commercial projects, which have the necessary environment clearances. They do not fall under the 100-metre limit of the sanctuary”. To deny them their rightful claim would be unjustified and to allow for further pollution to an already contaminated Delhi is also not unreasonable. From there arises a dilemma whose solution is hard to find.