Shrinking eco-sensitive zone alarms environmentalists

Warning bells ring for Okhla sanctuary

Environmentalists have slammed the Union government notification shrinking the ecologically sensitive zone (ESZ) area around Okhla Bird Sanctuary, saying it will interfere with the natural habitat.

Terming the decision “anti-wildlife”, environmentalists questioned the rationale of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) in agreeing to the Union Environment Ministry’s draft notification, demarcating a “mere” 100 metres as the eco-sensitive zone and only catering to the demands of home buyers and real estate developers.

The board on Tuesday had cleared a proposal issued by the ministry last year to redraw the ESZ map of Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Noida so that civic authorities can issue occupancy certificates to thousands of flats constructed in the area. According to the proposal, an area comprising 100 metres from the eastern, western and southern boundaries of the sanctuary, and 1.27 km from the northern boundary, be declared an eco sensitive zone or no-construction zone.

“We completely disagree with the new demarcation. If construction is done according to this proposal, it will interfere with the natural habitat. The urbanised environment will interrupt migratory and resident birds. As it is their numbers are dwindling,” said Vikrant Tongad of Social Action for Forests and Environment (SAFE).

“A 10-km limit, earlier held by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), was perfect for preserving the native flora and fauna. The new notification will also interrupt the water source of the area,” he said.

He said the current practice of deciding the demarcation is flawed and experts should be roped in the process. “Currently, the Divisional Forest Officer makes the plan and gives to the chief of wildlife forest, who then submits it to the chief minister. It then goes to the Centre. The whole process should involve experts who can give sound advice on the advantages or disadvantages of a particular move,” Tongad said.

He also added that that a national-level agenda will be prepared by environmentalists and will be submitted to the ministry. As per the Supreme Court’s orders, restrictions on industrial development are imposed within 10 km around all protected areas without designated ESZs, unless notified by the Centre.

The NGT had upheld this and stopped construction activity within 10 km radius of Okhla sanctuary in 2013. It had directed Noida authorities not to give completion certificates to housing projects within 10 km, asking the Centre to make fresh demarcations of the ESZ.

Echoing concerns raised by Tongad, environmentalist Dr Fayaz said the sanctuary should be seen as a source of water for the surrounding areas. “Noida is a part of Yamuna riverbed. The eco-sensitive zone of the sanctuary should cover the entire floodplain and emphasis should be given on protecting it,” he said.

“Plus, the 1.27-km area they have demarcated is already a part of the riverbed. Who is going to construct there anyway? They should protect other areas which could impact the ecosystem,” he said.

Terming the decision as “short-term goal”, he said it has not been taken keeping in mind the future generation and their needs. “The decision is anti-wildlife and a result of government’s callous approach towards protecting the environment,” Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties said. 

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