Amid environmental degradation, felling of trees has taken a heavy toll on a village in north Bihar’s Darbhanga. A lush green region has been turned into a barren land by officials who allegedly did not pay heed to requests of a farmer and his family that sustained themselves on the green cover.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali mission aimed at water, life and greenery has been dodged again and this time for rapid electrification. This developmental work appears to be happening at the cost of depriving a Darbhanga-based farmer and the environment of crucial green cover. Jale block’s Ratanpur village resident Keshav Thakur lost his green plantations because of government officials setting up high transmission cables in January.
The Darbhanga-Sitamarhi 400 KV transmission line was proposed to pass through Ratanpur village in Darbhanga’s Jale block. The work was undertaken by Power Grid Mithilanchal Transmission Limited (PMTL) and in January this year, high tension cables were stretched across acres of agricultural land including green cover of bamboo and fruit orchards. The power grid work was done at the cost of eroding green cover despite their removal allegedly being unnecessary.
Red cross marked trees for cutting
Keshav Thakur, a farmer in his mid thirties, told Newsclick on January 21, 2021, that more than 150 fruit trees, 30 commercial, hundreds of saplings and 2000 bamboo trees were uprooted without his prior consent or knowledge. The green set up of nursery that used to be an earning source for the family was wiped out within hours, he claimed.
Moreover, no intimation of compensation from officials designated for the job posed a financial threat to them. “When concerns and complaints were spelled out in writing to officials at higher levels, we had to face the ire of local officials for reporting the wrongdoings to higher authorities. And as a result, we stand deprived of our green property, that too without compensation,” he said.
“Since February 2020, the district administration pressurised us to give up the green cover that too at minimal compensation, but we refused toeing the line of maladministration,” Keshav alleged with anguish. Being a patient of endovascular coiling in brain, it became tough for Keshav and also his family to sustain under economic hardships since 2013. The family solely sustained on farming and allied activities like running a small nursery and growing annual fruits like Mango and Jamun for sale purposes.
The family alleges that since last July, Keshav Thakur reaching out to Ministry of Power over the issue of illicit cutting of trees has irked the state and district officials as the Ministry wrote
back to principal secretary of the power department, Government of Bihar. Moreover, seeking help from the sitting MLA and MP did not reap benefits either.
Keshav’s father Ram Binay Thakur urged electricity officials to not undertake tree cutting and that too without compensation. The annual financial return from fruit trees and nursery used to be approximately Rs 1 lakh and commercial trees cost up to Rs 3 lakh while Ram Binay Thakur was offered only Rs 1 lakh. The victims approached the District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police, Upper Collector and local police but their desperate pleading to all ranks went in vain.
Cut down trees below high tension cables stretch
Pulling up high tension 400 KV cables over agricultural land involves preventive measures in order to keep the farming community out of potential danger and provide necessary compensation if loss is incurred. But all steps were apparently evaded during rampant removal of thousands of trees.
The stretched cables over wooden logs and bamboo trees can be seen in the above picture.
The Power Grid management had send a letter, accessed by Newsclick, to the office of Darbhanga District Magistrate mentioning Rs 1.19 lakh as compensation for the family, and declaring that the recipient did not comply or agree with the amount by not signing the compensation form. The family alleged they did not receive the compensation cheque because it was an insufficient amount. This misleading on compensation outraged those on the receiving end and as a result, emails pleading action were sent to lawmakers to bureaucrats and district officials.
The Circle Officer (CO) of Jale block, Anil Kumar Mishra informed Newsclick that the felling of trees was on order of the district administration. “The victim (Keshav Thakur) has been visiting me pleading action on compensation but it is not in our hand,” he said.
He further informed that the compensation to Thakur was delivered by Power Grid Mithilanchal Transmission Limited (PMTL). After reaching out to state head of PMTL, no response came in. An official of the power grid on condition of anonymity said that compensation has been given to those who lost trees and the electrification work was initiated only after district administration’s clearance. Calls made to the District Magistrate office did not receive any response.
The compensation to the damage done to trees during electrification is to be done in accordance with the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and as per the prevailing rates fixed by the Department of Forest and Department of Horticulture, Government of Bihar.
Keshav Thakur’s email to authorities detailing the incident.
Despite a series of inaction and instances of distrust over compensation, Keshav continued the complaint streak on social media. On twitter, he posted his video citing the whole episode of grave injustice, questioning the Chief Minister and District Magistrate. As a result, the Darbhanga DM’s twitter handle blocked him within minutes. After an year of mental struggle over the cutting down of trees, he shot emails to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, DM Darbhanga, DGP and the President of India, in which he demanded alleged removal of and immediate action against ‘corrupt’ officials who undertook the alleged illegal cutting down of trees.
Darbhanga’s neighbouring district Madhubani, which is famous for its painting, was also not free from this menace. In a bid to save the environment, women and girls of the district started a unique experiment three years ago. They started making Madhubani paintings on trees and save thousands of trees on a five-kilometre stretch.
Commenting on the felling of trees, the state’s young environment activist Siddhant Sarang said that rampant cutting of trees has worsened air quality all across the country and major cities of Bihar are known for worst air quality. “And in the midst of this grave threat, Darbhanga district administration shockingly undertook wiping out of trees at the cost hurting future prospects of a farmer family,” said Sarang, who is a recipient of the prestigious Diana Award for tireless efforts to safeguard environment.
In 2019, the Bihar government came up with a decision where it allowed subsidy of Rs 50,000 to enhance afforestation by planting fruit trees. In contrast to that, hundreds of Mango and Jamun trees were mercilessly cut down in Darbhanga’s Ratanpur.
The incident is also a fresh blow to Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali, a pet project of Chief Minister Nitish Kuma.. Across the state, trees planted as per government claim under Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali also have a major flaw because many fall exactly beneath the electricity cables (pictured above), which will hinder their growth subsequently, leading to their removal after a few years.
Recently, the Bihar government’s wood regulating policy also raised questions due to uncontrolled and unregulated rise in wood industries across the state.