The proposed Upper Ganga Canal Expressway (UGC) has come under a cloud after Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) officials inspected the site and estimated that around 90000-100,000 fully grown trees could face the axe if the project is executed.
The 148 kilometre stretch will connect Gautam Budh Nagar with Purkazi in Muzaffarnagar district of UP.
A site inspection report prepared by MoEF officials from Lucknow, and submitted to the ministry, pointed out that the project was bound to affect protected forest areas and endanger the natural habitat of species such as snakes, blue bulls, monitor lizards, porcupines, foxes, jackals, rabbits and rats among others, MoEF officials told Hindustan Times.
The eight lane expressway, costing around R7,000 crore and scheduled to be constructed on the right side of the Upper Ganga Canal (built in 1854), has patches of forest consisting of indigenous flora and fauna.
In June, the MoEF had returned the state government’s proposal seeking permission to cut around 34,477 trees on the stretch covering Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts.
After the proposal was returned, MoEF officials inspected the site in the last week of June and estimated that the number of trees that needed to be axed would be much more than requested by the state government.
“As per our estimate, around 90000 100,000 trees would be required to be cut if the project is executed. These would include neem, jamun, sheesham, peepal among others and would disturb the wildlife habitat,” Ritu Raj Singh, Deputy Conservator of Forests (MoEF Central), said.
In reply to an RTI query by Ghaziabad Municipal Councilor and social activist Rajendra Tyagi, executing agency Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA) said a survey was on to assess the number of trees that needed to be felled and wild animals that would be affected.
However, UPEIDA officials denied any knowledge about the MoEF report and stated that no trees have been axed so far.
“As per our assessment, around 40,000 trees have been identified that would come in the way for different work related to the project. We have no information on the MoEF report,” Ravinder Singh, a senior official of UPEIDA, said.
Deputy Conservator of Forest Ritu Raj Singh said there is a proposal to widen the Kanwar Road, to the left of the Upper Ganga Canal, and NH-58. “Once their widening is complete, the traffic congestions will ease and another road or expressway may not be required,” said Singh, quoting the site inspection report.