Home >politics >policy >Nod for Saarc university campus near Asola sanctuary, with riders

New Delhi: A decade after it was conceived, South Asian University (SAU) has finally got clearance to build a nearly $200-million campus on the edge of a protected forest rich with wildlife and plants in Delhi.

But the permission comes with some strict conditions.

The government’s decision to build the so-called Saarc University—a symbol of India’s regional diplomacy—within 100 metres of the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in South Delhi had raised eyebrows among some environmental experts. But authorities have now laid down the norms for the university and asked it to deposit a portion of the corpus for the Asola wildlife sanctuary.

The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, led by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, agreed to the proposal pending for years, earlier this month, according to the minutes of a meeting of the environment ministry.

Once the proposal was given the go-ahead by the wildlife panel, it was cleared by the ministry in view of its importance and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc)—a regional grouping of eight nations.

According to the minutes of the meeting accessed by Mint, the additional director general of forests (wildlife), Vinod Ranjan, told the committee that the university will be located 100 metres from the boundary of the Asola sanctuary. Ranjan said the forest department of the Delhi government has given its “no objection" to the proposal. “After discussions, the committee recommended the proposal in view of Government of India’s commitment to Saarc, subject to conditions prescribed by Chief Wildlife Warden," the minutes of the meeting stated.

The panel, however, laid down some of its own conditions before giving it the nod. One stipulated, “No representative of the university should be involved in any type of activity endangering the wildlife of the sanctuary and stray wildlife outside the sanctuary." Though recently in news for illegal mining, the 2,170-acre sanctuary is home to at least 190 species of birds, more than 80 species of butterflies, scores of other species of mammals such as blue bull, blackbuck, black-naped hare, porcupine, civet and the jungle cat. It is also home to many medicinal plants.

The wildlife panel has also asked the authorities of the university to adhere to good environmental practices ranging from solid-waste management to safe disposal of garbage at least 5km away from the sanctuary.

The committee also asked for 2% of the project cost be given to the Asola wildlife sanctuary and the Delhi forest department for development of soil moisture conservation and groundwater improvement work in and around the wildlife sanctuary.

“Asola sanctuary is the green lungs of Delhi, something we can ill-afford to compromise. Another worry is that Delhi’s green landscape is getting very fragmented. Also, the enforcement mechanism of the environment ministry to monitor conditions laid down for wildlife clearance is not effective enough," said Prerna Bindra, a Gurgaon-based wildlife conservationist.

Building the 100-acre Saarc university campus is expected to cost at least $198 million (about 1,257 crore) and will take three years to complete. The university is currently operating out of Akbar Bhawan in the Chanakyapuri area of Delhi, a spokesperson of the university said.

Conceived in 2005 by prime minister Manmohan Singh, SAU started its operations in the 2010 academic year. It offers post-graduate and doctoral programmes in various disciplines, including development economics, computer sciences, biotechnology, mathematics, sociology, international relations and law.

It will ultimately have 11 post-graduate departments and offer undergraduate courses. About 500 students have already completed their studies from the university, which, at present, has over 450 students from the eight Saarc countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told a function at the SAU earlier this month: “The establishment of the university is one of the most visible sign of transformation of Saarc—from declaration to implementation."

She said India is committed to bearing 100% of the capital cost towards the establishment of the university, adding, “Such a university would forge a sense of South Asian consciousness by bringing together South Asian students in the common pursuit of quality education."

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