On October 28, 2013, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) stopped construction of all flats within a 10-kilometre radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and asked the Centre to ascertain an eco-sensitive zone.
But the genesis of this story is much earlier. Okhla Bird Sanctuary was declared a protected site by the Uttar Pradesh government in 1990. While a 2005 directive of the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) insists that a 10-km radius around sanctuaries should be considered an eco-sensitive zone, it also notes that the demarcation of the eco-sensitive zone would be site-specific and ‘regulatory in nature’.
But no decision was taken by the UP government and the NBW regarding the delineation of the eco-sensitize zone around it and constructions continued to come up around the sanctuary.
The matter reached NGT after one Amit Kumar, through his advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, filed a petition before the tribunal on July 11, 2013. “Our intention was never to hurt homebuyers. We wanted to ensure that the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, a critical eco-system, isn’t harmed and rules are framed to protect such sanctuaries,” Bansal said.
The stay that followed affected over 70,000 underconstruction flats while thousands of homebuyers were left in the lurch after investing their money in properties, some of which builders claimed had been accorded environmental clearance in 2007.
For buildings that were halfway to completion, the work was allowed to go on, subject to the final order of the tribunal. In its order in April this year, the tribunal said that any decision taken by the government is subject to the final decision of the Supreme Court.
Jaypee Infratech, one of the 40 builders affected by the order, approached the Supreme Court, seeking a direction for the Noida Authority to grant completion certificates to its projects falling within a 10-km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. The Supreme Court, however, refused to entertain the plea.
Appearing for Jaypee Infratech, senior advocate A M Singhvi pointed out that around 4,000 flats constructed by the firm were ready for handover and a great humanitarian problem would arise if completion certificates were not issued since homebuyers had paid almost 95 per cent of sale consideration.
“In September 2013, the UP government had said that the eco-sensitive zone should be fixed at 1 km, but even then projects were affected. Now they’ve brought it down to 100 metres,” Bansal said.
In its April order, the tribunal pointed out that that if a 10-km radius was to be delineated, then not just areas in UP, but areas in Haryana and Delhi will be within the radius around the bird sanctuary. “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 the eco-sensitive zone. However, such decisions of the state governments are subject to the final decision of the SC,” the April order said.