Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Mid-Day
Close to two lakh trees have been axed for the Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg, a super communication expressway between Mumbai and Nagpur. The massive developmental project worth Rs. 55,000 crore is expected to be completed by 2020. The highway will be passing through ten districts of the region. In the process of its construction, the highway is likely to eat up more trees. Over 2,76,050 more trees are also listed for felling.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has asserted that it along with the state wildlife board and Botanical Survey of India, will be monitoring the trees, which will be planted in lieu of the felled tress, for a period of seven years to ensure their survival. Radheshyam Mopalwar, managing director and vice-chairman, MSRDC said, “We will start planning the plantation process and ensure its implementation by next monsoon.” He also that the trees planted will be of a local variety to ensure their survival. The MSRDC has stated that it will plant 650 trees per kilometre, instead of 583 as per guidelines by the Indian Roads Congress.
However, environmental activists have been protesting against the move, asserting that the Maharashtra government is rapidly giving clearances to developmental projects without taking into account its environmental repercussions. Speaking to NewsClick, Stalin Dayanand of Vanshakti said, “The government is planning to plant saplings. But its almost like giving away your fixed deposits with assurances that it will be returned 20 years later. The government is conning people as the loss of ecology due to the axing of the trees will be permanent.” The activists are also raising questions of the feasibility of the MSRDC’s plan. Dayanand added, “How will a drought-hit state like that of Maharashtra, with a water emergency provide lakhs of litres of water for over a period of more than nine months?”
Also read: Modi 2.0: Same Destructive Policy on Environment?
The MSRDC will be planting saplings which cannot compensate for fully grown trees, thereby, disturbing the ecological balance which will take decades to be fully restored. Activists have been protesting consistently against the Fadnavis government for opening up buffer zones and degrading the environment by following a destructive policy adopted by Narendra Modi at the centre.
The Modi government has slated a slew of projects to privatise the coastline aimed at benefiting the corporates. It has approved an overhaul of the Coastal Zone Regulation (CRZ) rules. The central government has also proposed to overhaul the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006, which governs the environment clearance process for industries. The proposed changes recommend the local urban bodies or municipalities to give clearance to building and construction projects. The zero draft notification also seeks the creation of a district level authority to consider the environment clearance rules related to the mining of minor minerals.
While news of forest clearances being given easily are making headlines, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has decided to go green in his second term and plans to plant 125 crore trees, equal to the population of India, along national highways. Gadkari said he would complete all the ongoing highway projects by 2020.
Environmentalists have argued that instead of strengthening the implementation of the existing EIA notification, the changes would in fact weaken it and leave loopholes to help the industrial projects such as the Samruddhi highway. The project is stated to reduce travel time from Mumbai to Nagpur from a 14-15 hour journey, to 8 hours.