It has been two years since the National Green Tribunal (NGT) stopped all constructions within 10-kilometre radius of Noida’s Okhla Bird Sanctuary. These two years have been of hardship for nearly one lakh investors who had put their hard earned money in various real estate projects. The decision not only affected the investors but has also made future of around 50,000 flats uncertain. These flats were scheduled for possession during last couple of years but nothing moves now. What’s worse is that the home buyers, mainly coming from lower middle and middle class families, are faced with double burden to bear the living cost at a rented accomodation in addition to paying an EMI for the property.
After the unearthing of irregularities in dozens of project ever since the crisis related with Supertech’s Emerald Court surfaced, the confidence of buyers in the real estate sector has taken a dip. The buyers, who have invested their money in as many as 54 projects in the vicinity of the bird sanctuary, could be seen running from local authority office to builders’ premises. The investors rue the fact that they are being made to pay the price for the irregularities committed by the builders as well as the local authorities.
The authorities, however, claim that it’s the green court which will have to take the call. “As the matter is under litigation, we can not decide anything. For now, we will have to wait for the court’s order,” said a senior official who heads building and construction department. The official also confirmed that within a span of two to three months period, home buyers should be in a position to register their flats as a copy of the notification will be submitted to the NGT soon.
The official also said the notification has been drafted keeping in mind guidelines of the Supreme Court and the interests of all stakeholders. “In view of investment of thousands or crores in dozens of projects, we have taken all necessary measures. Now the onus in on court that up to what extent it accepts our proposal. If our stand will be justified, it will be a big relief for buyers and the developers,” said Manoj Rai, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) who looks into building and construction activity in the region. The woe of the buyers started in October 2013 when the NGT, while hearing the petition of a Noida resident, cancelled environmental clearance of real estate projects in and around the city after it emerged that builders had taken the clearances on false grounds. The flat buyers became affected by two orders of NGT, halting construction and prohibiting the Noida Authority from giving completion certificates to completed projects. An estimated 50,000 buyers have not been able to take possession of their flats because of the second order.
Both realtors and the home buyers hoped to get relief as the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) assured to solve the issue by reducing area of the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ). Though the ministry has not divulged details of what it proposes, it has been communicated that delineating a 10-kilometre radius as the eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary does not make sense.
Recognising the extent of development that has been going on for years now within 10-kilometre of the sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, the ministry thinks that the most feasible option is to consider areas around the sanctuary with similar wetland habitat as the sanctuary. “If the ministry goes ahead with this proposal, it would be a big relief to the developers and home buyers in Noida as all pending projects affected by this order are outside wetland area. What’s more, since all these projects have got environmental clearance (EC), they can resume their work as soon as ESZ is notified,” said the authority official.
The experts also claims that the delineation of the ESZ is flexible as the National Board of Wildlife
(NBWL) in 2002 had decided that land falling within 10-kilometre of the boundary of national parks and sanctuaries should be notified as ESZ. However, it revised its decision earlier in 2005 and said that delineation of eco-sensitive zones have to be site-specific where specific activities would be strongly ‘regulated’ rather than ‘prohibited’.
The MoEF notification of February 2011, that specified guidelines for declaration of ESZ, further noted that many of the existing protected areas have already undergone tremendous development in close vicinity to their boundaries. Therefore, the task of defining the extent of eco-sensitive zones around protected areas has to be kept flexible and protected area specific.
The environmental activists, however, claim that the ministry could not reduce the area of sensitive zone as it will be a brazen violation of norms laid by the MoEF as well as guidelines of the Supreme Court. The activists claimed that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Rule-2006 for all kind of construction activity makes it mandatory to prepare impact assessment report and to get clearance either from the state government or from the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), depending upon the area of the project. However, in case of construction activities in Okhla bird sanctuary area,
majority of builders have not followed the procedure.