Mumbai: The uproar over more than 2,000 trees cut in Mumbai's Aarey forest for the Metro car shed work has brought back focus on environmental issues with regard to ongoing development projects in Maharashtra. The latest information available via RTI is even more shocking, as a huge number of trees were cut for the expressway between Mumbai and Nagpur during the tenure of the previous government led by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis.
The Samruddhi Expressway is a Rs 55,000 crore project, considered an ambitious project promoted by Fadnavis on the lines of the Surat-Vadodara expressway built by then Chief Minister of Gujrat, Narendra Modi.
According to information coming, as per a Right to Information (RTI) response, almost 38,000 trees could have been cut for the work of this project. Sandeep Khedkar, social activist from Selu in Wardha district, had sought this information from the district social forest department. He had asked about the trees that were planted in Itala and Kotumba villages.
In an RTI reply, the department said that 35,000 trees in six categories were planted in Itala during the 1988 tree plantation programme. Whereas, in Kotumba, 15,200 trees were planted during the plantation drive in 1989. As per the department, around 77% trees could survive after plantation. So, out of 50,000 trees almost 38,000 trees survived in this parcel of land.
Khedkar has sent photos to NewsClick, alleging all the trees have been cut. The land is being used for the work of the Samruddhi Mahamarg.
"It is clearly a huge damage to the environment. In the 1990s, we used to take our cattle at this location for fodder. Now everything is desolate," said Khedkar.
The more serious information that’s coming out is that the panchayat bodies of both the villages were not even asked for permission before the trees were cut. As per the state's tree plantation department rule, the responsibility of these trees lay with the gram panchayat. The letters of both the gram panchayats are also with Khedkar, saying that they had not given permission either for soil excavation or tree cutting.
Samruddhi Mahamarg has been in controversy since the initial stages. The farmers have protested against the land acquisition in almost six districts. But Fadnvais-led state government had pushed the project despite protests.