New Delhi: The controversial park being built by Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Mayawati to honour Dalit icons has got a green signal from the Supreme Court.
The apex court on Friday decided that the Noida park, being built by the UP government next to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, could be allowed, but added that the total constructed area should be reduced to 25% of the park’s total area as against the original plan of around 38%.
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Mayawati had commissioned the park with statutes of Dalit leaders in the 33.43ha area that acted as a buffer zone between the sanctuary and human habitations. As per environmental norms, a buffer zone of 500m has to be maintained outside protected areas such as the bird sanctuary. In this case, the UP government cut down 6,241 trees and shifted 512 trees to other parks and planned a built-up area of 6,999 sq. m.
The top court’s forest bench, comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, and justices Aftab Alam and K.S. Radhakrishnan, allowed the project to go ahead after determining that the area in question was not forest land. More importantly, the court called for a “close second look by the concerned authorities” of the environment impact assessment (EIA) notification (1996), which determines whether or not such projects can be allowed.
The apex court believed that there was ambiguity in the EIA laws, under which the park project was being scrutinized. It also said that it would have preferred the ministry of environment and forests to conduct impact assessments in such cases and that this judgement would not set a precedent on “buffer zones”.
The court said proximity to a protected area was the main concern and hence decided that the built-up area be reduced, while recommending a list of mitigating measures. It instructed that 50% of the area (closer to the sanctuary) would be dense tree cover, 25% would be grass cover and the remainder is for the project, maintaining that only indigenous species of trees be planted.
The petitioner Anand Arya’s main contention was that since the buffer zone was so densely forested, it should be treated as forest land. He said he was partially satisfied that the court decided to have 75% of the project area as green cover.
But Anand pointed out that several trees, which were more than 20 years old and considered “moderately dense forest” by the Forest Survey of India, were lost and this will not have a good impact on bird life. “Let’s hope Okhla will resurrect some day. The saving grace is construction cannot start till 75% is planted,” he said.
Buffer zones “are a crucial component of wildlife management,” said Anoop K.R., director at the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur. “The purpose of the buffer is to kill external influences on the core area of a park. It should also be a different habitat, to naturally prevent the animals inside from going out.”
Meanwhile, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is claiming a victory. “SC verdict is in favour of BSP’s stand. It is good that at least Supreme Court realizes what is the significance of this project,” said Ambeth Rajan, national treasurer of the BSP and Rajya Sabha member.
Padmaparna Ghosh and Appu Esthose Suresh contributed to this story.