Flyovers as first floors
Experiencing the construction of numerous flyovers as first floors to Delhi and adjoining townships has been a reality for the last few years. The present length and breadth of the roads is not enough to accommodate the rise of vehicular movement. Traffic jams, diversion of roads and other facets; go hand in hand with the promise of making things easy for commuters. Amidst all this however, one loses count of the trees that are cut, green spaces paved down, biological diversity lost and the lives that are affected. There sure is a semblance of the respite, perhaps for three, four or five years. But then the traffic returns! What doesn't make a comeback are the green belts, natural wetlands, bird habitats and many a times people's homes.
One such story seems to be in the making since May-June 2003 with the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) undertaking the construction of a flyover at the intersection of the road from Sector 18, NOIDA and the Dadri Road remove traffic lights to facilitate the construction of an amusement park. Today the supporting pillars stand bare and still, awaiting the completion of the flyover that would go right through Smriti Van, located opposite Sector 16 in NOIDA.
Smriti Van which occupies a significant portion of 6 kms stretch of green belts for the residents of Mayur Vihar, NOIDA and Vasundhara Enclave is more than just a landscaped garden, which can be reconstructed. About 30% of it is wild. Regular visitors to the park have on numerous occasions, encountered wildlife such as wild hare (Lepus nigricollis), in portions of the park, which today lay levelled and strewn with cement and stone. They also point to have seen the droppings of Neelgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) whose presence is associated with wild or semi wild scrub areas. Its occurrence in such close proximity to bustling urban settlements is surely rare.
The ecological importance of Smriti Van is enhanced by its close proximity to the 400 hectare Okhla Bird Sanctuary, which was notified on May 8, 1990, under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. This sanctuary area along the Yamuna River is the treasure house of birds, both migratory and endemic.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BHNS) has been carrying out a process of identifying Important Bird Areas all over India, in association with Birdlife International. The Delhi Bird Club believes that the bird diversity in the Okhla Sanctuary can rival the internationally acclaimed wetland in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.
The Club's website highlights that of the 450 recorded species in Delhi, 300 have been spotted in the Okhla Sanctuary. Obviously with the constant traffic movement, the potential of the bird sanctuary would be impacted negatively and will only add to the damage already caused by the Delhi-NOIDA toll bridge.
According to a note prepared by Samrakshan Trust, an NGO, which is campaigning to save this green belt, “the reeds and bushes in close proximity to a wetland play a vital ecological role of sediment control.” It also points out the importance of the nallah that flows along the stretch of parks (including Smriti Van) and states that the “reed beds are alive with nesting Cinnamon, Yellow, and a few Black Bitterns (this is probably the best site in India to get reasonably close views of these species in numbers)”.
Though iron/concrete pillars, construction material etc have found their place in Smriti Van, and there is traffic diversion on the main road leading Sector 18, NOIDA, presently, the actual construction activity has come to a standstill.
This entire state of affairs throws up specific issues not just for the area in question, but also for the present trend of planning in cities like Delhi. Urban forests are envisaged to be converted into landscaped parks. Green hedges dividing roads see themselves being sacrificed at the hand of tiled ones with iron grills on both sides. Trees are being ruthlessly cut, as roads need to be widened for smoother movement of vehicles.
How sustainable is such urban planning? Shouldn't we be thinking more in terms of reducing the vehicles on the road rather than giving more space for them? Moreover, where is the scope for urban residents to be a part of the decisions that would lead to a complete change in the landscape around them? The answers for these lie not just with authorities but with the consciousness of citizens.