Okhla Bird Sanctuary in Noida is a paradise for our winged friends – the only zone after Nairobi in Kenya, Africa, to attract over 400 species all year round and over 1 lakh migratory birds from all over the world in the winter. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary (OBS), 3.5 sq km of which is in Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, is an area of international importance as it hosts 30% of the 1200 to 1300 species recorded in the Indian sub-continent!
Eco-sensitive zones around national parks and sanctuaries act as “shock absorbers” and a transition zone from area of high protection to one needing less protection.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) order on the Okhla Bird Sanctuary (OBS) surprisingly does not get into the implications of building high-rises near bird sanctuaries beyond repeating what the petitioner, Noida resident and environmentalist Amit Kumar, had stated. The NGT had heard the plea (in August 2013) of Kumar to stop the allegedly illegal and unauthorised construction being undertaken by builders within 10 km radius of the OBS. In a petition filed through advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, he had contended that without prior NBWL or SEIAA clearance, around 55 builders were carrying out construction work around the sanctuary. This, he had said, was against the National Forest Policy and Conservation Strategy, 2002, which stated that 10 km (aerial distance) radius should be treated as an eco-sensitive zone beyond the protected area as per the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act.
One issue here is whether the high-rise buildings will interfere with the navigation of birds flying in and out of the sanctuary. The second issue is whether such structures will lead to the sanctuary becoming less hospitable for the birds - obstructing their view, flight path, and creating distractions because of lights, says Chetan Agarwal, an environment analyst.
There are some bird species within the sanctuary that are perhaps more sensitive than others and prefer peace and quiet, while other species like pigeons and crows are well adapted to cities. Dr Monalisa Sen, a scientist working on environmental issues, says that migratory birds live in forests, meadows or wetlands, and do not understand the concept of glass.
To a migratory bird, glass is an invisible and dangerous obstacle. They see the landscape reflected in windows and mirrored building exteriors and mistake the reflection for shelter. Often, seeing through the glass, the birds spot potted plants or trees inside the building. Where windows meet at the corners, or line up with each other front and back (ie glass walkways, solariums, greenhouses), birds perceive a clear passage and try to fly through to the trees they see on the other side; and suffer injuries, she says.
The sanctuary had been in the news due to the delay in handing over of a number of commercial and housing projects. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its October order in 2013 had asked around 50 developers with projects located close to the OBS, to stop construction work as they did not have the requisite environmental clearances from the National Board for Wildlife. In April 2014, the NGT had issued an order that forbade Noida Authority from giving completion certificates to projects within a 10-kilometre radius of the OBS, and so possession cannot be handed over in the projects in question.
Builders were allotted land by the Noida Authority near the sanctuary in 2008. The 55 projects mentioned in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) October 2013 order are located in sectors 44, 45, 46, 50, 52, 76, 78, 94, 96, 97, 98, 107, 110, 120, 121, 122, 125, 127, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135 and 137. OBS was declared a protected wildlife habitat on May 8, 1990, by the UP government under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.