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Elections 2019: Environment Panel Clears 10 Projects Hastily, 1 Lakh Trees to Be Felled

The project clearances have been given without taking into account the enormous environmental repercussions, say experts.
Elections 2019: Environment Panel Clears

Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : Livemint

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi government is making a final attempt to give clearances to its ambitious projects. This week, the environment panel, cleared all 10 projects under the Bharatmala Pariyojana – a centrally funded road and highways project – while deferring three projects.

The approximate cost of the cleared projects comes to over Rs. 40,000 crores. The project clearances have been given without taking into account the enormous environmental repercussions, say experts. Implementation of these projects would mean that over 1,39,01.5 hectares of land would be diverted. Of this, about 552 hectares is estimated to be forest land. This is also going to lead to the felling of over one lakh trees, impact over 30 rivers and 400 smaller water bodies. According to reports, the projects will also affect wildlife in Ranthambore National Park and the National Chambal Sanctuary. The panel also cleared the path for three eight-lane greenfield highways to get their terms of references (TOR) – each of which pass through or are close to the protected wildlife sanctuaries of reserves.

Speaking to Newsclick, Kanchi Kohli of the Centre of Policy Research said, “Ambitious projects like Bharatmala need to be assessed for their overall social and environmental impact prior to being rolled out. Currently, each highway is being pursued as a stand-alone project which will never give an understanding of the overall impact of the scheme. This is notwithstanding the fact that each of these impact waterways, involve massive tree felling, fragmenting wildlife areas, destroying farmlands and displacement of homes.”

The three projects deferred include an eight-lane road project in Madhya Pradesh (NH 148N), with an estimated cost of Rs 1,078.4 and a proposed acquisition of a total of 336.72 hectares of land out of which 41.82 hectares is forest land and is likely to result in the felling of over 3,000 trees.

Another proposed project that has been deferred is a 208 km stretch of NH 754K spanning from Jodhpur to Sanchore in Rajasthan, as a part of the Amritsar-Kandla corridor. The third one is a 211.49 km eight-lane road on the newly declared NH 148N from Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh to Vadodara in Gujarat.

The two projects include a total acquisition of 272 hectares of forest land, impact on 290 water bodies including 15 rivers, and the felling of 41,318 trees. It is only a matter of time before the projects get cleared.

As per the data that the government presented before the Parliament, a total of 20,314.12 hectares of forest land has already been diverted between 2015 and 2018. During this period, the ministry had received a total of 4,552 proposals and of those 1,280 (28.11%) got approved. Environmentalists are alleging that in a pre-poll gimmick, the government to push its development agenda are approving projects left, right and centre without paying much heed to the consequences.

The Bharatmala plan is touted as one of India’s biggest highway development plan which was aimed at bridging critical infrastructure gaps through the development of economic corridors, so-called inter- corridors and feeder routes, border and international connectivity roads, coastal and port connectivity roads and greenfield expressways. The total capital cost of 6,361 km of projects awarded under Bharatmala is pegged at Rs 1.475 lakh crore. Of this, 4,383 km of projects worth Rs 1.03 lakh crore are those that have been awarded afresh by the scheme, with the remaining coming from existing and incomplete NHDP projects.

The government ahead of the polls, instead of addressing the lacunas is rushing the process of clearances setting a dangerous precedent for the environment and wildlife.

Also read: Modi’s Highway Building Stuck In A Jam

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