We salute people who are fighting to save the Aravallis and the Okhla Bird Sanctuary

  • Vandana Ramnani, None, Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 14, 2015 15:02 IST
A serious threat looms large on the existence and survival of Aravalli hills

They are people who are just like you and me – who must have scrimped and saved to take on the burden of loans to buy their first homes. Today, tired of a system that usually does not favour underdogs, they have gone a step ahead of us and taken on the gauntlet to improve things. Their agenda is to have an impact on the public at large and to create a better world. We deserve it, at least after 68 long years of independence.

Take the case of Lt Col (Retd) Sarvadaman Oberoi, an RTI and legal activist, who must have sent letters and petitions to every person who matters in Haryana for two issues closest to his heart: protection of the Aravalli hills in Haryana and more clarity on the Apartment Ownership Act, rights of the owners.

The man who often repeats the sentence, “the Aravalli hills must be protected at any cost” is involved in a number of lawsuits. The government withdrew its decision on the first case related to preventing the fragmentation of the Aravalli hills, especially the two villages of Kot and Roj ka Gujar, due to faulty application of the Consolidation Act on non-agricultural Aravalli areas. The other case is related to privatised Aravalli commonlands in Mangar village that include a large portion of the Mangar Bani sacred grove and was filed against real estate firms. This matter is sub-judice.

Recently, he put up a web petition to the chief minister of Haryana, asking him to protect the Aravalli hills. Within a few weeks, the plea attracted 5,000 on change.org. This, he says, is one of the many approaches to change the tide in favour of the Aravalli hills and the forests of Gurgaon and Faridabad.

“I am a retired person and could have done well by simply hanging up my boots but I wanted to prove myself useful to the society at large, become a game-changer. Even if I don’t live long to reap the benefits of the work that I have done, I am sure at least my grandchildren will do so in the next three to four decades. At least, future generations would be able to enjoy the benefits of the changes that are finally introduced,” says Col Oberoi, a self-taught lawyer, who claims that he can be found in court every single day, attending to one matter or the other.

Col Oberoi has also filed a case relating to the Apartment Ownership Act in which he has sought to clarify the rights of owners, and enforce their implementation.

‘Homebuyers more aware’

Another good Samaritan campaigning for the environment is Amit Kumar, a school teacher by profession, who questioned the logic behind constructing residential apartments within a 10-km radius of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
Following Kumar’s complaint the National Green Tribunal gave orders prohibiting the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (Noida) from giving completion certificates to housing projects falling within a 10-km radius of the Sanctuary.

“Such constructions were being carried out illegally without obtaining the required approval from the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL),” says Kumar’s lawyer, Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who claims to have appeared pro bono for the case. “Since the government showed little concern for environmental laws and failed to take care of the sanctuary, the applicant had to move court,” he adds.

Eventually, the homebuyers, the common people, were the ones to suffer the most. Had the builders and the authority taken clearances from the environment ministry for the projects this problem might not have arisen. The ball right now is in the ministry’s court as it has to notify the 100 m buffer zone proposed by the UP government before completion certificates are finally handed over.

There are many issues that this case has raised. One, public perception has undergone a change. Earlier, people would simply look at an advertisement and blindly book an apartment. Now homebuyers question builders, ask for environment and fire department clearances, adds Bansal.

A case which could have changed the game for home buyers, relates to Jyoti Swaroop Arora, a consumer, who had complained of alleged collusion between realtors associated with the Credai. Anti-trust watchdog Competition Commission of India had then expanded the scope of the complaint to include around 20 developers and found that their actions indicated a “one-follows-the-other” phenomenon which could not have meant independent action by the builders and that there was no evidence that Credai allowed these companies to fix prices.

Had Arora gone for an appeal or if the matter had been referred to a higher court, it could have been a game-changer, says MM Sharma, head of competition law and policy, Vaish Associates Advocates.

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