Buyers of about 30,000 completed flats in Noida, falling within the 10-km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, might have to wait for another two years before their houses can be safe from further environmental litigation.
Though the environment ministry hasn’t notified the initial draft for eco-sensitive area around the sanctuary, it will take 545 days for the decision to come into effect. That will not be enough to safeguard houseowners or builders from further green litigation. Regardless of the eco-sensitive zone, the ministry also expects real estate developers to seek clearance from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) for each project.
A National Green Tribunal (NGT) order in October had stopped construction within 10 km of the sanctuary and ordered the Noida Authority to not hand over a completion certificate to realty projects within the area.
The NGT had relied on the wildlife action plan of the government of 2002 and a 2006 order of the Supreme Court, which required governments to draw a legal safety ring -called the eco-sensitive area (ESA) – around national parks and sanctuaries where development work would be restricted. Supreme Court orders also made it mandatory that besides the governments demarcating the ESA, projects falling within 10 km of such wildlife zones should secure a clearance from NBWL. Since then, the environment ministry has interpreted the court orders to imply the wildlife board clearance for projects falling within a 10-km radius of the bird sanctuary is mandatory even if the ESA finally declared is smaller in size.
Forty-nine projects fall within the 10-km zone, including those of Jaypee, Amrapali, Supertech, Paramount and ATS.
While no construction has been initiated for seven projects, 15 projects have got completion certificates, 23 have been granted an environment nod and the remaining two have not yet got clearance. NGT had directed the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana to send their proposals related to the eco-sensitive area around the sanctuary.
The process of notifying the ESA is carried out in three stages. In the Okhla bird sanctuary case, the process is stuck at the first stage. “This means the stuck projects will get a go-ahead only after around two years from when the initial notification is drafted by the ministry,” an environment ministry official explained. “The entire process requires inviting public views, consideration of the comments and finalisation of the notification in the government gazette.”
However, this wouldn’t be the end of the road for the real estate developers. “There is a misconception that marking an eco-sensitive zone will provide an ultimate solution. One has to carefully read the Supreme Court order of 2006, which requires a project that has already been given environment clearance to seek wildlife clearance from the NBWL if the project falls within 10 km of a national park or wildlife sanctuary,” said the official.
In a case related to Goa Foundation in 2006, the Supreme Court directed: “The cases where environment clearance has already been granted where activities are within a 10-km zone” will have to be referred to the standing committee of the NBWL, which appraises projects around national park or wildlife sanctuaries.
The environment ministry official said that many project proponents have not yet applied for wildlife clearance. This means that even if an eco-sensitive zone is fixed, projects outside the zone but still falling within 10 km of the sanctuary will have to seek clearance from NBWL.
“No proposal for building construction within 10 km of Okhla Sanctuary has been received for consideration of the Standing Committee of NBWL,” Javadekar had told Rajya Sabha through a written reply on July 31.
NBWL, which was recently reconstituted, is expected to meet on a regular basis to appraise projects. In its first meeting held in August, the committee cleared about 130 projects.
On June 10 this year, the apex court rejected Jaypee Infratech’s plea of granting completion certificates to its 4,000 completed flats and had said that the Centre would take a call on the matter.