Delhi: Okhla Bird Sanctuary

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1990-2015: Notification as eco-sensitive zone; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, August 19, 2015


Flats built within

Future uncertain for 1 lakh homebuyers

The Times of India Jul 08 2014

Okhla bird sanctuary was notified in 1990. Builders got land and sanctions post-2006. People bought flats, investing their life's savings, only to realize at the last minute that the projects in Noida won't get a completion certificate because of a recent NGT ruling marking as eco-sensitive the area around a 10-km radius of the sanctuary. The ball is now in the court of the UP govt and the MoEF. As buyers fret, TOI traces the genesis of the crisis that has affected thousands of people

On April 3 this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order that has put at risk the investments of some one lakh homebuyers in Noida. The NGT ruled that the area within a 10-km radius of the Okhla bird sanctuary be considered eco-sensitive. As a result, no new building in that area would get a completion certificate. And this has come at a time when 1 lakh flats have already been built, 30,000 of them ready and waiting to be handed over.

Buyers are at their wits' end, and so are the 40-odd builders who have projects in that area. Supertech chief RK Arora, who is also the president of Credai West UP, said, “All the buildings in Noida have been built on designated areas earmarked by the Noida Masterplan of 1976. The Okhla bird sanctuary was notified in 1990. Post that, there was no demarcation of an eco-sensitive zone.

The Noida Authority has approved the buildings. All of them are legal constructions. How can a judgment be super-imposed on this development? If one were to reconsider all construction around the Okhla bird sanctuary within 10 km, we will need to raze all highrises all the way up to the Delhi High Court. All of Sector 18 with the existing and upcoming malls would also need to go.“

The builders lease-purchased the land from Noida Authority from 2006 onwards, long after the Okhla bird sanctuary was formally created under the Wildlife Act. But in 2002, the National Wildlife Board had ruled that there ought to be demarcated eco-sensitive zones around sanctuaries. The UP government, however, paid no heed to this order. Land was sold, plans were sanctioned and apartments were built.

Then in October 2013, Noida based environmental activist Amit Kumar through advocate Gaurav Bansal moved a petition in NGT, seeking the imposition of an eco sensitive zone around the Okhla sanctuary .

To the shock and disbelief of both builders and home-buyers, the NGT said until the state worked out the eco-zone, the area around a 10-km radius of the Okhla sanctuary should be treated as eco-sensitive. So, no completion certificates will be granted to the builders until a designated ecozone is created around the area.

NGT reiterated this in a statement on April 3 this year. The matter came to a head when Jaypee Infratech approached NGT in April to get the necessary clearance prior to handing over flats to the buyers. They were turned down. Jaypee then challenged the NGT ruling in the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court sent the matter back to the UP government and the ministry of environment and forests, and asked them to work out a solution.

The UP government fixed an outline, but the National Wildlife Board rejected it. Gaurav Bansal, the petitioner in NGT, said, “In September 2013, the UP govern ment said the eco-sensitive zone will be fixed as a 1-km radius, but even this was affecting a number of real estate projects. This Janu ary they pruned it to a 100-metre radius, but the National Wildlife Board shot this down.“

The MoEF, meanwhile, at the SC's instructions, has conclud ed a formal survey of the Okhla sanctuary .

But the buyers, many of whom have put in their life's savings in these flats, are getting restless.

Prolonged repair work inside the sanctuary

Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, May 03 2015
Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

The Times of India, May 03 2015

Sharmila Bhowmick

External threats to the ecologically fragile Okhla Bird Sanctuary, like pollution and real estate activity, have always been the main talking points. But there are internal problems galore, slow-poisoning this biodiversity hot spot in NCR

It took a long legal battle, one of the most discussed in recent times, to secure the perimeters of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary . But now that the government has agreed to ringfence the park with a no-construction zone, is its fragile ecology now adequately protected? Going strictly by the wisdom of the draft eco-sensitive zone -a 100-metre radius on the western, southern and eastern sides of the park and 1.27km on the northern side -it is. If the courts, environmentalists and administrators are convinced that frenetic real estate activity beyond this radius is not antithetical to an avian refuge, then it must be so. But as the spotlight stayed on external threats to the Okhla park -real estate and pollution, prima rily -the internal problems that birdwatchers have been speaking of for years festered in the shadows.To understand what these problems are, TOI toured the sanctuary on different days in April. This is what we found.

Shorter migratory season

A thriving habitat for flamingos, sarus, pochards and several migratory species, Okhla wasn't its chirpy self this April as many of its avian visitors had left despite a shy summer. The annual repair work of the barrage's sluice gates was on even in late April, though it was scheduled to be completed by April 15.

Birders claim this prolonged repair work, which has a direct effect on the park's ecosystem as it dries up the reservoir.

According to bird watchers, migratory varieties that left early were the Northern Shoveler, Barheaded Geese, Graylag Geese, Common Pochard, Common Teal, Garganey and Eurasian Wigeon. Resident birds, too, left the sanctuary earlier than usual. The Oriental Darter, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Cormorant, Common Moorhen, Marsh Harrier and Little Grebe were among those to seek refuge elsewhere.

There were others birds that stayed back but did not breed, like the Purple Swamphen, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Spot-billed Duck and the Whitebreasted Waterhen.

District forest officer KK Singh said, “The irrigation department started the repairs late, only by March end. It takes them a month to finish it. Repair of barrage sluice gates is an annual feature in India.We can't do anything to prevent it.“

P Rao, the joint engineer for Agra Canal, which originates in Okhla, blamed the delayed repair work on unseasonal rain. “The Yamuna water level was too high for us to conduct the repair work earlier,“ he said.

Noise pollution

Owing to its location, wedged between two populous cities with vehicles continuously crisscrossing the Yamuna bridges, the Okhla park isn't exactly the birder's paradise where the silence is punctuated by chirps and tweets. There is always background noise here.

There is no respite from honking cars all year. During festivals or the holiday season, noise pollution increases manifold as footfall at the sanctuary increases. During one of the visits, this correspondent came across a group loudly talking among itself, their chatter and bursts of laughter audible from a fair distance away . If this wasn't ideal behaviour in a bird sanctuary, the park's caretakers didn't reproach them either. In the monsoon months, kanwariyas throng the sanctuary , of ten playing loud music. During Chhat puja, devotees gather near t h e water body inside to offer prayers. “Noise pollution within the sanctuary needs to be stopped. It's a major factor behind scaring birds away ,“ says T K Roy , an ecologist.

A crematorium in the park

Deeper inside the sanctuary, a fully functional crematorium exists within its premises, next to the water body.This is highly polluting as bodies are cremated traditionally .“There is a need to separate the entrance to the crematorium so that mourners do not spill over into the sanctuary area,“ a senior forest official says.

Cattle invasion

Visitors often complain that cows and buffalos are regularly brought to the sanctuary for bathing or wallowing. This affects the nests and breeding habits of a number of birds that like shallow waters. Some nests also get damaged but the park's management hasn't taken preventive measures. Concrete road: A 2.5-km-long road, built in 2005, cuts through the sanctuary . Concrete is not only environmentally polluting, it also kills a lot of food sources for birds. “A concrete road within a or sanctuary is unheard No of, yet it exists here,“ C says. The road C says. The road Roy can be used by ve hicles that enter from the Delhi side of the park to go to Noida.

“The forest de partment should carry out a study to see how each of these violations are affecting the habitat of this very special sanctu ary in NCR. If the sanctuary is not taken care of from within and domestic and migratory birds are not protected, then we may move court to see that all rules and regulations are enforced,“ says Gaurav Bansal, an environmental lawyer.

Groundwater level

September 2015

The Times of India, Sep 27 2015

Reasons and affected areas, Lowered groundwater level in Okhla; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Sep 27 2015

Jayashree Nandi

Okhla drowning in groundwater  Parts of Okhla are facing a bizarre problem-the groundwater table here is so high that they have to pump out excess water and discharge it into sewers. This is happening at a time when several parts of the capital are parched, including neighbouring Sangam Vihar that largely depends on tankers for its supply. Residents claim that if they don't carry out this exercise, buildings are at risk of damage due to flooding in basements. The Okhla Industrial Estate Association claims it has written to the chief minister and various government agencies asking them to dewater the area and has now decided to file a petition in the National Green Tribunal.

“We de-water the area and release the water in the sewers. What can we do? We have been requesting the government to do something. We have met officials at least 20 times and have also written to them,“ said a member of the association. It has around 300 members.

“There is too much water in the basements because of which our lifts don't work.The same problem is being faced by residents of Sukhdev Vihar and Siddhartha Enclave. Why can't Delhi Jal Board extract the excess water?“ asked another member.

They claim that water levels rose up to the surface from 2013 onwards. According to a recent investigation by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) that TOI re ported, water levels in many parts of southeast Delhi started coming up after they received piped DJB water supply from the Sonia Vihar treatment plant.

People stopped depending t on borewells for water completely. The area was notified as an “over-exploited“ zone which also placed several restrictions on groundwater extraction. These areas continue to be categorized as “over-exploited“ zones.

Certain tests found high E.coli levels in the water because of which Delhi Jal Board declined using it. But scientists insist that the water be used for non-potable purposes after treatment.

“I think the government can demarcate shallow water table areas and install tubewells so that the water can be used by neighbouring areas like Sangam Vihar which is always facing shortage. The government may also consider denotifying certain parts temporarily depending on the current groundwater table there. There should also be systematic sampling to determine if the water is potable,“ said Shashank Shekhar, a hydrogeologist and assistant professor of geology at Delhi University .



Sharmila Bhowmick, February 21, 2021: The Times of India

Okhla Sanctuary in Delhi- degrading quality of water, as in 2021
From: Sharmila Bhowmick, February 21, 2021: The Times of India

In 2015, the ministry of environment and forests had approved an eco-sensitive zone within 1.3km of the northern boundary of the park and 100 metres on either side. Six years on, the 400-hectare bird park now has a 4km metalled road, a boardroom, canteen, office, painted signboards, CCTV surveillance and everything required to ensure the footfall of visitors.

But what has remained unattended over the years is the ecological health of the 273-hectare water body, which is the main source of food for the 17,000-odd migratory birds that visit the sanctuary on an average every year.

As one enters the park through gate number 1, a stench is inevitable. Frequent visitors say it gets worse during the summer. District forest officer PK Srivastava blamed it on the sewage being released into the Yamuna and said they had requested the Delhi government to prevent contamination of the river.

“Excessive sewage is being released into the Yamuna, which is leading to the condition here. There are multiple drains that open into the river and the stream of untreated water is reaching Okhla. We have requested the Delhi government to prevent the contamination. Initiatives should be taken to treat this sewage,” said Srivastava. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary is mainly conserved on the Noida side. On Delhi’s fringes of the same waters, there are dense human settlements.

But the Yamuna is not the only source of squalor for Okhla. The Hindon canal, too, adds to the filth with industrial effluents. “The stench is primarily because of sludge, which releases methane and other harmful greenhouse gases. Since untreated sewage is being released into the water, it could have traces of lead, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, nickel and pesticides from the farms nearby,” said Naresh Gopal Shrivastava, a Ghaziabad-based limnologist.

He offered two immediate solutions. “It is important to treat the sewage before it is released into the river. Locally, the forest department can introduce bioremediation to help the sludge decompose. The water body and its health should be given utmost importance because its toxicity is directly or indirectly entering the ecology. The fishes in the water would be having a metal and toxic buildup,” he said.

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