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Bird’s-eye view

In the last decade alone, construction just under 1-lakh hectares — equivalent to 1,34,000 football fields — has happened in the NCR, including in the area around the sanctuary.

Written by Aditi Vatsa , Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi |
Updated: August 24, 2015 7:30:40 am
The area around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary has seen a construction boom since the Nineties. (Source: Express photo by Gajendra Yadav) The area around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary has seen a construction boom since the Nineties. (Source: Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

The Okhla Bird Sanctuary is home to 302 different species of birds. Keeping this in mind, the UP government declared the area around the sanctuary a protected site in 1990. But the years since then also coincided with an unprecedented real estate boom in the National Capital Region. In the last decade alone, construction just under 1-lakh hectares — equivalent to 1,34,000 football fields — has happened in the NCR, including in the area around the sanctuary. Last week, the National Board of Wildlife notified the eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary, in a major relief to construction projects. But environmentalists are fuming.

The Centre’s notification last week on the eco-sensitive zone around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary has left homebuyers ecstatic and environmentalists fuming.

The genesis of the controversy dates back to 1990, when the Uttar Pradesh government declared the area a protected site. It wasn’t until 2005 that the National Board of Wildlife issued a directive, stating that a 10-km radius around sanctuaries should be considered an eco-sensitize zone.

Until then, officials admit, no one had really bothered about such delineation. The 15-year period since the declaration of the sanctuary as a protected site also coincided with an unprecedented real estate boom in the National Capital Region (NCR). Construction continued unabated in Noida, particularly within the 10-km radius of the sanctuary, due to its proximity to Delhi.

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In the last decade alone, construction just under 1-lakh hectares — equivalent to 1,34,000 football fields — has happened in NCR, with Noida, Greater Noida and Gurgaon leading the race.

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“The focus was simply not on the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. Noida had suddenly become an incredible success story of real estate growth. Dusty villages were morphing into a shining metropolis,” said an official of the Noida Authority.

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That’s bad news for the birds. Delhi is home to 500 species of birds, the second highest in the world for any city after Nairobi. But this has been steadily declining since 1990, with construction rapidly eating into bird habitats and food sources. Of the 500 species, many such as the Lesser florican and the MacQueen’s bustard haven’t been officially sighted since the early 1970s. With skyscrapers drawing closer and closer to the Sultanpur National Park and Bird Sanctuary and pollution becoming a serious cause of concern at the Najafgarh Drain Basin, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary quickly became the sole refuge for migratory birds in the capital.

A survey by the Bombay Natural History Society in 2010 recorded 302 different species of birds and noted that “rapid urbanisation” was quickly turning the space into an “island”.

“The winter ducks at Okhla are dependent upon the surrounding areas for feeding. The construction of a large public park with huge cemented area and buildings has put further pressure on the sanctuary,” it said while stressing the development of an eco-sensitive buffer zone around the sanctuary.

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But despite the report, which had been ordered by the Supreme Court and the environment ministry, construction continued unabated within the 10-km radius of the Okhla sanctuary, considered to be an eco-sensitive zone.

The delineation of this eco-sensitive zone was still to be done by the UP government.

On October 28, 2013, the National Green Tribunal stopped construction of all flats within a 10-km radius of the sanctuary and asked the Centre to fix an eco-sensitive zone.

In April last year, the Tribunal further stated that any decision by the UP government in the case would be subjected to the final order of the Supreme Court.

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