Agra: Taj city environmentalists have sought the scrapping of the plans to construct the northern bypass through the eco-sensitive zone bordering a Ramsar wetland site of the Keitham lake, now called Soor Sarovar bird sanctuary, 18 kms from the city on the Agra-Delhi highway.
In a series of memorandums to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and concerned authorities, they have demanded the scrapping of the road project called the “northern bypass” to connect the Yamuna Expressway with the Agra-Delhi national highway.
Eminent environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya, who has filed an intervening application in the M.C. Mehta Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the Taj pollution issue told IANS, “A 24-km long northern bypass is being proposed which may pass through the very sensitive area of Soor Sarovar Bird sanctuary and Aakhbara, Babarpur and Bainpur forest range.
“This new road project will be a major threat to not only the wildlife but will disturb the natural ecological balance in a highly critical buffer zone between the Mathura refinery and the Taj Mahal. Also, it is a Ramsar protected conservation site, a bird sanctuary, python point, an area of historical and religious importance, The area also is the home of the world’s largest sloth bear shelter run by the Wild Life SOS.”
The protesters have demanded: Demolition/Relocation of the Trade Center, Leather Design Studio and Testing Lab and Leather Park erected within 175 meters of the Boundary of Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary (SSBS), Reassessment and Reconsideration of the boundaries of the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary (SSBS), and the immediate halt to any plan for constructing a bypass through the dense green cover along the Yamuna bank.
The environmentalists told IANS that they were striving hard to protect the entire sensitive zone for the last so many years from the land grabbers and encroachments, but now this new road plan had frustrated their efforts.
Bhattacharya said rejoinders and complaints had been sent to the concerned institutions and the political leaders as land sharks and corrupt bureaucrats were hell-bent on grabbing chunks of valuable land close to the river and along the proposed bypass.
The Soor Sarovar (lake) Bird Sanctuary (SSBS), and the green belt around it absorbs pollutants from the Mathura refinery and the highways around it. Rapid urbanization had already disturbed the natural balance that had shielded the historical monuments in Agra from being hit by the environmental pollution, but the proposed northern bypass project promoted by the vested interests was bound to critically upset the equilibrium, Bhattacharya added.
The whole area, environmentalists said, gave shelter to more than 165 species of birds during some or the other part of the year. Every year it provides shelter to more than 25,000 birds during winter, a huge heronry of colonial nesting birds develops every year in this bird sanctuary, whose presence has been recorded since 1990.
In the year 2018 more than 4,000 nests were counted. The nesting activity by 14 heronry species makes it a unique protected area of Uttar Pradesh. The area was brought under the Protected Area (PA) network by declaring it a sanctuary under Section 18 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 vide notification number 764/14-3- 49/90 dated March 27, 1991 by the government of Uttar Pradesh.
On August 21 this year the wetland based bird sanctuary was designated as a Ramsar site, i.e. a wetland of international importance, as it meets the criteria of “being a Wetland that supports threatened ecological communities, regularly supports 20,000 or more water birds and continuously supports one per cent of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies”, the memorandum states.
By Brij Khandelwal