Down With Trees. Let’s Build Roads!
October 2010: The National Highway Authority (NHAI) of India is on a rampage across the country. Bulu Imam, Regional Convener, INTACH, who lives in Jharkhand and has been protecting nature for decades wrote to Sanctuary asking us to help unite the nation to resist the felling of lakhs of trees to make way for roads. A very quick scan of pending projects threw up some really scary facts.
Some 16,000 trees are to be axed along a two-lane roadway between Thalapady (18 km. toward Kerala from Mangalore) and Kundapur to make it a four-lane stretch. Many of the trees are over 100 years old. The NHAI has paid the Forest Department a ridiculous fee (Rs. 800 per tree and Rs. 94,000 per kilometre) to compensate the loss to ecology and to undertake afforestation programmes elsewhere. Forget the ecosystem services, even the sheer carbon contained in the trees is valued at more. By undervaluing trees, a conspiracy to damage the ecological foundations of our subcontinent is unfolding.
Across India, news is filtering in of trees being cut across highways. Hundreds of young trees were felled along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, the only road that links the Kashmir valley to the rest of the country. The trees were felled in a patch that was traditionally prone to landslides. The new highways include widening of National Highway 33 from Barhi (on NH2) via Hazaribagh to Ranchi in Jharkhand, along some 135 km. Some 85,000 mature, ancient, indigenous, fruiting, medicinal and sacred trees and lakhs of smaller trees are being cut along this route. Other new road projects are also being undertaken in Jharkhand from Barhi towards Koderma, from Ranchi to Jamshedpur and from Govindpur on NH2 to Sahibganj and Chatra to Hazaribagh. Despite protests and requests from environmentalists that at least trees along one side by saved or that widening be carried out just up to the tree line with a divider in the middle were ignored.
Earlier this year, Jairam Ramesh, the Minister for Environment and Forests had asked the NHAI to conduct an audit of environmental clearances for highways as the trees being cut were “not being replaced.” He refused to clear pending highway projects through the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve and the Pench Tiger Reserve, for which he received unjustified flak from the Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath.
Contrast this with the attitude of the Moghuls centuries ago. When they constructed their grand trunk roads, which are still the backbone of India’s road maps, they ensured that fruit and other food and shade giving trees lined the roads for the comfort, protection and convenience of people. Our government instead spends thousands of crores on flood and drought relief, problems that can only be exacerbated by our continued deforestation. Says Bulu Imam, “These trees do not figure in the satellite mapping of India’s tree cover, forest cover, or indigenous tree cover. Their loss means the loss of a most unique and irreplaceable seed bank of indigenous tree species in the open areas where few such trees exist, imperative to natural re-seeding over time. They represent an ecological corridor hundreds of kilometres in length for all kinds of bird and animal species, and their destruction is the loss of reseeding of trees in the future and the decimation of such habitat. Any re-plantation programmes will not be able to replace such hundred-year-old indigenous fruiting and medicinal and sacred tree species.”
Every child in India knows the implications of the loss of trees. The important function of water harvesting and storage by the mycozoical web of fibrous layers between the roots, their ability to prevent run-off and soil erosion that could lead to desertification and their vital role as sinks for absorption of carbon dioxide – are irreplaceable. Trees also provide shade and are a natural source of fruit and medicine for humans and a vital habitat for thousands of birds and small animals. At a time when India is faced with falling water tables and rising temperatures, only the completely blind would choose to cut our green lungs.
Sanctuary readers are encouraged to write to the following Ministers. Make your own points, but perhaps you could add the suggested line as well.
SHRI M.O.H. FAROOK,
His Excellency, the Governor of Jharkhand,
Raj Bhavan, Ranchi – 834001, Jharkhand.
Phone: 0651–2283465 / 66 / 67
“Sir we look to you for justice. A little intelligence and sensitivity would go a long way in reducing the negative impact of road construction and this would surely work to the benefit of the proud people of Jharkhand.”
SHRI KAMAL NATH
Ministry of Road Transport and Highways,
Transport Bhavan, 1, Parliament Street, New Delhi –110 001.
Tel.: +91–11–23711252, 23710121
“Sir you have been our Environment Minister, more than anyone else you could help to green our highways. Why are you allowing your people to denude India this way?”
SHRI JAIRAM RAMESH
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF),
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
“Sir you have begun to reform the Ministry of Environment and Forests. We request you to incorporate simple clauses in all environmental clearances given for national and state highways including:
Creating bypasses to avoid protected forests.
Eliminating 50 per cent of tree loss by using trees on either the left or right shoulders as the central line for the new alignment.
Insisting on planting local species, including fruit trees with a 10-year maintenance commitment to ensure the survival of new trees planted as compensation for those cut down.”
Send copies of your letter to the Prime Minister’s Office.
DR. MANMOHAN SINGH
The Prime Minister of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi – 110 011.
For more updates on the campaign please see the following documents below:
1) Letter to Jairam Ramesh (Tree Cutting) click here.
2) Letters from Govt. Authorities regarding widening of Highways click here.