The proverbial man nature conflict has a new address. Just beyond the outskirts of the national capital and falling under neighboring Uttar Pradesh, over 30,000 home buyers from 49 housing projects, mainly along the Noida greater Noida expressway are getting drawn into a stare down with those fighting for a healthy ecosystem.
No one would have thought that a 3.5 sq km swathe on the Yamuna, notified as bird sanctuary by the Uttar Pradesh government in 1990, would lead to deep reverberations in the realty world 24 years later.
In April this year the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a ban on the authorities issuing completion certificates to buildings corning up in the restricted 10-km radius zone of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, a dedicated wetland stretching along the Delhi-UP border.
As per an earlier NGT order of October 28, 2013, the tribunal had issued an interim direction saying building constructions within the area or within the distance of the eco-sensitive zone shall be subject to the decision of the National Board of Wildlife and till the time the clearance of the Board is obtained, the authority concerned shall not issue completion certificates to projects.
Out of the projects of 49 developers, 15 have already completed their projects and are awaiting the Authority’s approval for issuing of completion certificates.
According to rules, the Noida Authority has to issue completion certificates to a building after the completion of construction. Subsequently, homebuyers can register their flats and take possession from the realtor.
With both buyers and builders having invested heavily in the area, there is an all-pervasive fear of a ban on construction activities in the area till the NGT issues its final order.
Contacted by Realty & More, the NGT refused any comment at this point of time. While the Noida Authority says there is no such ban on construction, it is firm that no completion certificate will be issued till the NGT’s further order.
Rama Raman, Chairman, Noida, Greater Noida Authorities and the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA), told Realty & More: “There is more misconception among the people on this matter, there is no ban on construction at all. As per the tribunal’s order, we have been told to stop issuance of the completion certificates to the concerned builders till the NGT’s further direction. Builders can carry on their construction and complete their projects.”
“The UP government’s eco-sensitive proposal to the Centre may be cleared soon, maybe in 1-2 months. I think the central government will solve the issue,” said Raman.
Admittedly, confusion abounds while the crux of the matter is that the NGT has directed the environment and forest ministry to identify such an area, while at the same time directing all construction in a 10-km radius be halted.
But at the same time, homebuyers are an immensely hassled lot with many alluding to collusion between the builders and authorities.
“I have been paying monthly EMIs and rent for the last five years in the hope that I will move into my dream home soon. This situation could only have come due to a nexus between the authority officials and developers. This is a big injustice to us,” said an aggrieved homebuyer.
Conceding that the homebuyers are suffering, Manoj Rai, OSD, Noida Authority said: “At least 15-odd projects are awaiting our nod for the completion certificates. So the buyer rest cannot shift to the houses till such time. I know it is a kind of double whammy for them as they are paying rents and also interests on their home loans.”
Rai added that after the NGT’s order, the state government has recommended an area at a distance of 100 metre from the Okhla Bird Sanctuary as the restricted zone. This has been sent to ministry of environment and forests where the issue is pending. We have come to know that very soon ministry will decide on the matter, and we are waiting for it.”
Developers and builders are also keeping their fingers crossed on the issue of the 10-km radius zone. In the Goa Foundation case, the Supreme Court on April 23, 2013, had ruled that the 10-km limit is not a sacrosanct distance, and in the case the court has also opined that a one km distance is sufficient to be left for that bird sanctuary, otherwise the entire mining thing in Goa will come to a halt.
Said Raman: “We have no say on this matter. It is the NGT order which was issued as per its model. I agree that the 10-km long model is not practical or feasible, but the court issued the order as per its policy.” Meanwhile, the environment ministry has sought the opinion of states on the NGT order against buildings in Noida. It has also sought the opinion of the UP, Delhi and Haryana governments for notifying an eco-sensitive zone around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary.
The ministry is mooting a two-km radius eco-sensitive zone as opposed to the 10-kilometer radius zone proposed by the Green Tribunal. It has directed the states to submit the land survey report in 15 days. The ministry is likely to issue a notification on the eco-sensitive zone by July 15.
Developers In Red
With the NGT’s move, builders have been sitting tighlipped on their prospective projects in the 10-km radiusm mostly towards Nodia and Greater Noida. In a recent development, an apex court order on June 10 also dismissed a plea by real estate firm Jaypee Infrastructure.
Jaypee Infrastructure, having projects in this 10-km zone close to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, had filed a petition in the SC claiming that the NGT had misinterpreted the SC’s decision in the Goa Foundation case in declaring 10-km radius of national parks and sanctuaries as the eco-sensitive area.
“Let the central government take a decision on this issue,” said the SC Bench, while dismissing the plea by Jaypee Infrastructure.
Developers feel the NGT’s order is quite harsh a decision especially in the case of already constructed structures in Nokia and other affected areas. Most of the projects began before NGT’s formation, and when NGT got set up, many projects were nearing completion or were under construction. The sensitive zone radius had been also increased. Thus, most decisions came very late while earlier all necessary approvals and sanctions were provided by the authorities.
“The court must oo into t IS matter once again and should overlook the previous decision as many units, money, time and efforts of several investors, customers and developers will go in vain. At present, we are awaiting the court’s new decision,” said Rupesh Gupta, director, JM Housing.
This will hamper the realty sector of NCR badly and can IIPPlirtn to negatively strike the market sentiments in the Indian real estate sector in general. The NGT and overnment must come down to a balanced conclusion, so that neither the environment nor the customers lose out,” said Ashok Gupta, chairman and managing director, Ajnara India.
However, several developers and real estate bodies have been jointly addressing the issue to the authorities time eal estate advisory body CREDAI has been ve ac in terms of reaching out to the authorities and er to help the affected developers and customers.
But several significant questions remain unanswered. Apart from Noida, many adjoining areas of Delhi such as Jamia, Lajpat Nagar, Kalkaji, Nehru Place, etc also fall within the 10-km radius zone of the sanctuary. Will the fate be similar for these regions as it is for the for Noida sectors?
WHAT DEVELOPERS SAY
“The government should rather come out with a practical and feasible solution that does not negatively affect the common homebuyers. In some ways or the other, the entire sector is getting affected by this situation and sentiments are getting hurt as well. We are observing many affected customers reaching out to the builders and asking for refunds, but there are many who are supporting them as well. There is nothing that a builder can do about this issue. So, we are just sitting with hope at the moment,” said Amrit Pal Singh, president (marketing), Cosmic Group.
“There is a possibility that the previous decision will be overlooked, otherwise it will be a major setback for the customers and builders. Buyers are also hopeful of the fact that there will be justice for all, so right now they are not panicking but are waiting eagerly for the things to go their way,” said Deepak Kapoor, director, Gulshan Homz.
IMPACT ON WILD LIFE
Environment and wildlife activists allege that ineffective implementation of the regulatory provisions have endangered wildlife in some way or the other. For instance, realty projects built on lake beds or near forests affect the wildlife’s habitat. Surely, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary can be no exception.
Experts are of view that although Noida and Greater Noida suffer the least from the environment point of view, construction of realty projects in Delhi locations will affect the inflow of migrating birds that come from abroad.
For example, the flight path of Siberian cranes that come to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary from Central Asia that is from the North or North West. While Noida is to the south of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, Delhi is to its north,” said a leading ornithologist on condition of anonymity.
In an attempt to block the UP government’s proposal to reduce the eco-sensitive zone around the Okhla Bird Sanctuary to just 100 metres, city-based environmentalists and lawyers recently met in Noida on how to take it forward to the central government even as Supreme Court against the proposal was made to suit n meet the needs of the bird
Lawyer Gaurav Kumar Bansal has alleged that several realtors had submitted wrong information to the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) Up’s green body, to get the green clearances. “The reduction of the zone would destroy the bird sanctuary. We are keeping an eye on the government’s move and we will take this to the apex court to ensure the protection of the bird sanctuary,” said Bansal, adding: “The state had earlier filed an affidavit that it was going to declare a 10-km radius as an eco-sensitive zone but had later recommended just 100 metres.
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