Dams · Wetlands

Haryana Wetlands Review 2017: Urbanization Taking Over Basai Wetland

All through 2017, Basai Wetland has been in news following Haryana Government plan to build a Construction and Demolition (C&D) plant in its close proximity. Activists, Birders left no stone unturned to oppose the plant. They approached National Green Tribunal (NGT) and even wrote to Haryana State Government to identity it as important wetland. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) also blamed Haryana Government for being negligent towards the cause of wetlands and asked it to give Basai legal protection by declaring it a protected wetland. All these efforts went futile and in sad turn of events, NGT, on 10 January 2018 revoked its stay over construction of the C&D plant thus closing the doors of hope for Basai wetlands and dependent eco-system.

Basai Wetland

Basai wetland is encircled by Sector 102, Dhanwapur and Basai village from west, north and south directions in Gurugram district of Haryana. The wetland is permanent shallow wetland covering an area of about 250 acres. Rain, irrigation and sewage water in turn keep the wetland inundated round the year.

The wetland was “discovered” as a birdwatching destination in 2001 when ornithologist and author Bill Harvey made a pit stop by the Basai railway track, en route to the Sultanpur National Park for a morning round of birdwatching. A 2001 field report of the Delhi Bird Club mentions that the Basai wetland covered an area bigger than Sultanpur jheel, a landmark bird sanctuary a few kilometres further down the Gurugram-Sultanpur road.

The wetland supports a high diversity of birds including migratory ones. It has been recognised as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area. In May 2017, eBird has recorded 282 bird species at the site including many listed in Threatened category by IUCN. The area around the wetland also provides refuse to wild animals.

But in last two decades, around six‐seventh of the Basai village’s agricultural land has been lost due to urbanization and residential development. The village has also lost five of the six ponds to urbanization. The loss of open land around the wetland has also affected livelihood of farmers and potters.

Concerned have been raising alarm over increasing construction activities, real estate development, and resultant disturbance affecting the wetland and birds. A proposed C&D waste processing plant by a multinational construction firm, approved by the Gurgaon Municipal Corporation, has raised fresh concerns over habitat loss, dust pollution, and disturbance to the wetland and its rich bird life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basai_Wetland

Basai Wetland

May 2017: Govt Proposes C&D Plant At Basai

In May 2017, the State Govt proposed to set up reportedly the first C&D of Haryana over 3.5 acres of land in Basai village to make the city debris-free. The processing capacity of the plant was reported to be 300 tonnes concrete waste per day. The cost of the plant was stated to be Rs 13 crore and ILFS Company was given contract to build and operate it. The company had assured to start production at the plant by the end of 2017. As per report, due to rapid urbanisation the quantity of construction waste was increasing fast and it was expected to increase by 10 per cent every year. https://www.indiatoday.in/pti-feed/story/construction-and-demolition-waste-processing-plant-to-be-set-930592-2017-05-22 (India Today, 22 May 2017)

(Above) The site of the C&D waste plant in the Basai wetland in Gurgaon. As per the C&D Management Rules, 2016, a plant cannot be near a forest, water body, wetland, sanctuary or human clusters.
MCG commissioner V Umashankar on May 23, 2017 inaugurated the construction of C&D Plant at Basai (HT Photo)

02 June 2017: Birders Raise Alarm Bells

In June 2017, bird watchers flagged concerns over the project claiming the plant is coming up in the wetlands’ catchment area. Fearing damage to wetlands and noise disturbance to birds, they also demanded to shift the plant somewhere else.

But officials at Gurgaon Municipal Corporation (MCG) refused to pay attention saying that the plant will help to process tonnes of construction debris being dumped in the Aravallis and elsewhere.

Refuting the MCG’s assurance that the project in no way would threaten the wetlands, birders revealed that an officer of the pollution control board was recently transferred for raising objections and refusing permission to the plant. 

Activists also alleged that micro-dust emanating from the plant would not just destroy the wetlands but also trigger large-scale pollution affecting the area’s greenery. Both the pollution control board and the MCG refuted the allegation. On the contrary, they claimed that the area surrounding the plant was degraded land and not a wetland at all.

Stepping up protest, concerned decided to raise the issue at higher forums. They said that they were not against the project but the site selected for setting up the plant. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/c-d-wetlands-a-threat-to-basai-wetlands-say-environment-activists/story-ZiQlnf49hloONWETobfEjN.html (Hindustan Times, 2 June 2017)

17 June 2017: CM Lays Foundation Stone  

Ignoring the loud criticism of green activists, on June 17, 2017, Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister (CM), Haryana laid the foundation stone of the plant. Birders had written a letter to him on the issue, informing him that the plant will greatly disturb the ecology of the area. The authorities again claimed that the plant was not situated on the wetland and would cause no disturbance to environment.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/cm-to-launch-basai-waste-plant-project-greens-livid/articleshow/59185504.cms (The Times of India, 17 June 2017)

21 June 2017: DBF Files Petition In Green Tribunal

In the same month, Delhi Bird Foundation (DBF) filed a petition in NGT raising concerns over the project coming up in wetlands catchment area. Following this, NGT issued notices to the Haryana government, MCG, IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure and Services Ltd and the MoEF&CC seeking an explanation.

According to the C&D Management Rules 2016, a plant cannot be near a forest, water body, wetland, sanctuary or human clusters. The birders said Basai was not declared a wetland under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, despite having a rich avifauna and aquatic life. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/gurgaon-ngt-issues-notice-to-haryana-govt-over-c-d-waste-plant-in-basai-wetlands/story-ZJcCQTT5yEG55jgyp9icXL.html (The Hindustan Times, 22 June 2017)

In July local and migratory birds started visiting the wetland heartening the birders. But, they were worried over the uncertain fate of wetlands due to proposed C&D plant. According to them setting up of the plane would scare away the residents as well as migratory birds. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/migratory-bird-spotted-early-in-basai-as-concerns-mount-over-wetland-s-future/story-DPHCmFJdBxUlfhOSu7TOCM.html (Hindustan Times, 1 July 2017)

Image result for basai wetlands birds
In August 2017, 12 migratory bird species spotted in Basai wetlands draw twitchers (Source: ToI

July 2017: NGT Stays Construction Work  

Noting adverse impact of project on the wetlands, the green tribunal on July 4, 2017 ordered to stay the construction work and maintain “status quo” till the next hearing. The tribunal was also informed that the boundary wall of the plant, being developed by IL and FS environmental Infrastructure and Services Ltd, was adjacent to the rich biodiversity of bird species. The Haryana govt repeated that the area was a not a notified wetland. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/python-inside-iaf-transport-plane-at-agra-airbase/1091907?scroll (Out Look India, 5 July 2017)

August 2017: MCG & DBF Submits Photographic Evidence To Support Their Claim

During next hearing, MCG submitted photographic evidence before the court claiming that there was no wetland in Basai at the site of C&D plant. It further claimed that the area was listed as ‘utility zone’ in the Gurgaon-Manesar Development Plan. The green tribunal, nevertheless, directed the company, to not start operations till further orders. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/mcg-claims-no-wetland-in-basai-shows-photo-proof-birders-cry-foul/articleshow/59815617.cms (The Times of India, 29 August 2017)

To counter MCG’s claim with photographs, DBF also submitted photographs showing presence of wetland over 900 acres spread across Basai. DBF also urged the court to order reallocation of plant and direct govt to declare Basai as a notified wetland. Concluding the hearing, NGT asked the company to submit compliance report and maintain status quo till next hearing. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/entire-basai-is-wetland-ngo-submits-photo-proof-to-ngt/articleshow/60027857.cms (The Times of India, 11 August 2017)

Sept. 2017: MoEF&CC Blames Haryana Government

In September 2017, replying to queries posed by NGT, the  MoEF  blamed the Haryana government for not taking any step to identify and classify wetlands, including Basai caught in legal tangles due to lack of clarity on its status. It also claimed that the state government had not submitted any report on the status of the Basai wetland.

“Till date, this ministry (MoEF&CC) has not received the brief document for the subject Basai wetland in the state of Haryana. Hence, the government of Haryana and its concerned organisations are required to take necessary action in the matter,” reads the reply filed by the Union ministry.

The ministry also said that state government had not identified any wetlands in states within a year as prescribed under Wetlands Rules, 2010. Experts also criticised Haryana government for not paying attention to its wetlands. They alleged that rampant encroachment upon wetlands was one of the main reasons behind massive flooding and depletion of groundwater across Gurgaon. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/take-steps-to-classify-basai-wetlands-green-ministry-to-haryana/articleshow/60331472.cms (The Times of India, 2 Sept. 2017)

The Basai wetlands in Gurugram (Photo Pankaj Gupta)
The Basai wetlands in Gurugram (Photo by Pankaj Gupta at Live Mint)

October 2017: Stay Continued, Basai Excluded From Official Wetlands List

Despite a request from MCG to lift the stay on the construction of the plant, the green tribunal decided to maintain status quo till the next hearing.

Meanwhile, following tribunal directive, the irrigation and water resources department prepared a list of 51 wetlands in Haryana for identification and notification. Surprisingly, the Basai wetland found no mention in the list, submitted to the MoEF&CC. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/stay-on-basai-waste-plant-till-october-5/articleshow/60369268.cms (The Times of India, 5 Sept. 2017)

Nov. 2017: NGT Finds Basai Wetlands As Important Bird Site

In Nov. 2017, NGT directed the Haryana government to present the No Objection Certificate (NOC), procured from the Haryana State Pollution Control Board, (HSPCB) for the construction of C&D plant. As per state govt it was upon the NGT’s direction in 2015 that it had come up with four sites for the C&D plant and requested for amendments to its order. The NGT bench refuted that claim, stating that although it had asked the government to build a plant, the bench did not have the responsibility of approving the site and, hence, will admit any objections to the site proposed by the govt. Staying the work further, the court extended its order by fortnight.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/ngt-directs-govt-to-show-approval-it-got-from-pollution-control-board-for-basai-c-d-plant/story-ykLsD79oQT6cbsuxMPmF8K.html (Hindustan Times, 1 Nov. 2017)

As per another report, the HSPCB had given the consent to establish (CTE) to a private firm, hired by MCG, for building the plant in May 2017. Surprisingly the CTE had mentioned that the facility fell in the ‘Red’ category which means highly polluting. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/waste-plant-at-basai-got-green-nod/articleshow/61696310.cms (The Times of India, 18 Nov. 2017)

Finally on Nov. 24, the green tribunal observed that the Basai wetland as an important area for birds. However, it passed no order and postponed the matter for next hearing on November 27. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/basai-wetland-an-important-area-for-birds-rules-green-tribunal/story-9XnteT8zVd2bFrpKpefcmL.html (Hindustan Times, 24 Nov. 2017)

Meanwhile, hundreds of ducks, waders, terns, raptors and other species of migratory birds started flying to the wetland. As per birders, more than 30,000 birds from different parts of the world visited the wetland on annual basis from Russia, Europe, Siberia, central Asia and Afghanistan. Apart from Basai wetland, the Sultanpur National Park was also witnessing an influx of migratory birds. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/migratory-birds-start-flocking-to-basai-wetland-in-gurgaon/story-Xdh81qPA6xD4GOHTHwYEuN.html (Hindustan Times, 22 Nov. 2017)

Dec. 2017, NGT Panel Clears C&D Site

In December 2017, NGT appointed advocate Ravinder Kumar a local commissioner to make a proper assessment whether the land allocated for the C&D plant was a wetland or not and in case the site was not a part of the wetlands then what was the distance between the wetland and the plant site. Hearing both side arguments, the court also appointed to inspect the site and present his assessment during the next hearing. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/basai-arid-or-a-wetland-ngt-to-decide/articleshow/61886601.cms (The Times of India, 2 Dec. 2017)

Following this, the commissioner in accompany of MCG officials and DBF members inspected the site to evaluate its wetland status.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/wetland-status-govt-officials-inspect-basai-report-on-dec-7/articleshow/61908196.cms (The Times of India, 4 Dec. 2017)

Submitting the report, commissioner revealed that the Basai wetland was about 250 metre from a kuchcha road off which the C&D was proposed. The report also added that though the right flank of the road might qualify as a wetland, the project site did not fall in the catchment area.

“The project land does not appear to be a wetland or part (of it). Birds are seen in and around the portion inundated with water on the right flank of the kuchcha road, which would qualify as a wetland… can be decided only by the honourable tribunal,” read the report.

Activists pointed out, the project site was located in between the kuchcha road and the Basai wetland, which meant the distance between the two would be less than 250 metre. However, the report did not clarify the actual distance between the project site and the water body. The tribunal granted 24 hours to the petitioner and MCG for going through the report while scheduling the next hearing.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/mcg-waste-plant-site-doent-appear-to-be-wetland-report/articleshow/62044614.cms (The Times of India, 13 Dec. 2017)

Dec. 2017, DBF Writes To CM Haryana To Declare Basai A Protected Wetland

During the hearing, the tribunal also asked the petitioners to approach the Haryana government in order to get the proposed site declared a wetland. As it was the prerogative of the state to decide on the nature of the land. While the court did not oppose the C&D proposal, but it gave the petitioners time till Jan 3, 2018 to file their response to the report filed by a local commissioner. The report filed by the local commissioner had said that the site at Basai may be called a water body but he refrained from calling it a “wetland”. https://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/ngt-asks-birders-to-approach-state-govt-to-get-basai-status-of-wetland/story-H0TiLJIJTphDTvfYH0hkyO.html (Hindustan Times, 14 Dec. 2017)

More than 240 species of birds such as Marbled Teal, Sarus Crane, Black-necked stork and Asian dowitcher visit the Basai wetlands.
More than 240 species of birds such as Marbled Teal, Sarus Crane, Black-necked stork and Asian dowitcher visit the Basai wetlands. (Parveen Kumar / HT FILE)

Following NGT suggestion, petitioner wrote to the state wetland authority appealing it to notify Basai as a wetland.

Building the case for Basai, the letter stated: “The large wetland in sectors 101 and 104 of Gurgaon, is a mix of scrubland, fallow and cultivated fields, vegetation and flooded zones that support hundreds of varieties of bird species. The tree cover in the 700-acre area includes the Acacia and small shrubs. In addition, Basai wetland has rich reed beds of typha, phragmites, and water hyacinth stated the letter to the Haryana government.”

It is important to note that the area was providing habitat to more than 20,000 birds of 280 different species, which was 60 percent of the total bird species seen in the National Capital Region (NCR) making it one of India’s key ornithological hotspots.

As per DBF, the wetland area, comprising Najafgarh (Sahibi river basin), Basai wetland and Sultanpur National Park and wetlands in Jhajjar (Dhigal village), together formed a large ecosystem for migratory birds.

The site qualifies to be declared as a ‘Ramsar’, site which implies that it has international importance, reads a remark in the 2004 survey by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON). Citing Central Groundwater Board (CGWB) report that all water bodies in the area as a source of groundwater recharge, the survey also stated that Basai wetland was important to the city at a time when the city’s groundwater level was falling at an alarming rate. http://www.hindustantimes.com/gurgaon/notify-basai-as-wetland-birders-write-to-state-govt/story-RebB31uzOxcEYZg7zjs1PP.html (Hindustan Times 30 December 2017)

Jan. 2018: NGT Revokes Its Stay

On Jan. 10, 2018, directing MCG to ensure that construction work of the plant starts only after all requisite permissions were obtained from all departments concerned, according to C&D Waste Management Rules, 2016, the green tribunal vacated the stay on C&D plant. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/mcg-gets-green-signal-for-waste-plant-at-basai-as-ngt-lifts-stay/articleshow/62451139.cms (The Times of India, 11 Jan. 2018)

The NGT bench headed by acting Chairperson Justice U D Salvi passed the order after perusing the revenue records and noting that the land in question has not been identified as a wetland by the Haryana govt. http://www.newindianexpress.com/pti-news/2018/jan/17/basai-wetland-ngt-lifts-stay-on-work-at-waste-treatment-plant-1756577.html (The New Indian Express, 17 Jan. 2018)

The order, reads, “The order is susceptible to mischievous interpretation since the order records not to set up any machinery, equipment and operate the same therein for running the facilities of C&D waste processing without obtaining authorization from HSPCB.” Reacting to NGT order Pankaj Gupta of DBF and one of the petitioners, said that MCG had approvals under the Water and Air Act, as well as from HSPCB, however they did not have approvals under the C&D Rules.  The final judgment in the order is yet to be given. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/no-pause-on-basai-plant-but-air-cleared-on-rules/articleshow/62641726.cms (The Times of India, 25 Jan. 2018)

Other Wetlands Developments In 2017

In Nov. 2017, MCG planned to outsource the revival work of 16 ponds including Basai, Sukhrali, Fazilpur and Jahazgarh to improve the fast depleting water-table levels in the district. It had allotted tender for the Sukhrali waterbody for Rs 70 lakh and had floated tender for Basai pond.

According to revenue records, Gurgaon originally had nearly 120 waterbodies, of which only 16 can be revived now as per MCG. As per the report, CM had announced the setting up of a pond management authority for the rejuvenation and development of more than 14,000 ponds in Haryana.

 It was strange that instead of community participation MCG was outsourcing pond revival work but not many has shown interest despite repeated tendering for Sukhrali and Basai ponds. It seemed the MCG wanted to revive the water bodies by pumping ground water. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/mcg-to-revive-16-water-bodies-four-in-first-phase/articleshow/61679539.cms  (The Times of India, 17 Nov. 2017)

In Jan. 2018, highlighting public as well as administrative apathy that poses a serious threat to the Gurgaon water bodies, an RTI application revealed that about nine ponds – two ponds each at Shikohpur and Sadrana, and one each at Sikanderpur Bada, Garhi Harsaru, Chandu, Dhankot and Makdaula have been filled up with waste water.

gururam ponds or cesspool

As per local people, earlier, these nine ponds used to be the main source of water both for drinking and other household use. But rampant discharge of garbage and waste water has turned these ponds into stinking cesspools, spelling death for fish and other aquatic life too.

The RTI response further revealed that there are total 51 natural water bodies spread across 20 villages, and most of them come under the jurisdiction of block development officers. As per concerned the contamination of the ponds was having a deadly impact on groundwater. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/nine-city-ponds-filled-with-sewage-could-contaminate-groundwater/articleshow/62515115.cms (The Times of India, 16 Jan. 2018)

Before this, in March 2017, about 100 quintals fish were found dead reportedly due to dirty water at the Blue Bird tourist complex lake in Hisar district. Following this, the Tourism Department officials blamed the Haryana Land Reclamation and Development Corporation for stopping water supply to the lake last year leading gradual drying of the lake.  http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/community/fish-die-in-resort-lake-for-lack-of-fresh-water/385209.html  (The Tribune, 31 March 2017)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

Post Script:- 

Gurugram lost 389 water bodies in 60 years: Study As per latest report, Gurugram has lost as many as 389 water bodies in the past 60 years, a study has revealed. According to the study, there were 640 water bodies as per revenue records of 1956. However, 251 water bodies exist as per the current revenue records. The study also found that 253 out of 291 villages have water bodies in the Gurugram district.

The study also highlights that low-lying areas, which show up on satellite imagery of 2011-12 but not in the revenue records, are at the highest risk of being filled up. The study also proposed to access the change in water bodies between 2012 and 2017.

Image result for Gurugram lost 389 water bodies in 60 years: Study

While the NGT on Jan. 29, directed the Haryana government to protect all existing water bodies under the government ownership, the study came up with some interesting observations. The study report, compiled by the district administration, has been submitted in NGT. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/gurgaon-lost-389-water-bodies-in-60yrs-study/articleshow/62610956.cms (The Times of India, 26 Jan. 2018)

2 thoughts on “Haryana Wetlands Review 2017: Urbanization Taking Over Basai Wetland

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