Municipal authorities in Ghaziabad have agreed to allow the development of a golf course on large stretches of a city forest near GT Road. The stretches have already been robbed of their green cover by a drain that was allowed to overflow for years.
The Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation’s (GMC) move has sparked talk that it allowed the trees on the stretches to die to make way for the golf course on land that is set to become more valuable after the constructions of an abutting shopping mall, the New Bus Stand Metro station and the road linking National Highway 58 and NH 24 are completed.
“The proposal to develop the golf course and a farm house was made in 2008-09. The trees, however, were a major hindrance. The sewage from the drain was not checked, which led to the deaths of the trees,” Rajendra Tyagi, a municipal councillor and social activist, said.
The GMC in June gave the go-ahead to the Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) to develop the golf course on adjacent stretches of 31.5 acres and 49.5 acres. The go-ahead came after the GMC board had been dissolved in view of local body elections in Uttar Pradesh.
The profits from the golf course, to be constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 20 crore, will be shared 60:40 by the GMC and the GDA. The civic body hopes to fund a part of the R165 crore it is to contribute to Metro construction from the profits.
The 200-acre area, the land use of which is designated as city forest under the GDA’s Master Plan 2021, was developed in 2000-01. Material published then by the GMC claimed that around a lakh trees were planted.
In June 2009, social activists protested the damage to the trees caused by the dumping of garbage, its burning and the spill from the drain that carries untreated sewage to the Hindon river. The same month, Tyagi made public some GMC documents that spoke of the destruction of around 6,000 trees. The civic body later retracted the documents.
The next month, the Union environment ministry found that around 2,000 trees could be “damaged” if nothing was done to stem flooding in the city forest.
The GMC took steps to stop the dumping of garbage in 2009, but the flooding continued. As a result, only 25-30 trees remain in the 31.5 acre stretch. The 49.5 acre patch also has a huge area without trees. “Where have the trees gone? This is just not official negligence,” Tyagi said at a news conference on Thursday.
Municipal commissioner Jitendra Singh said the green light for the golf course had been given without any hurry. The project is “in the interest of the common man”, he claimed.
On the trees that have disappeared, Singh said: “The trees have vanished because of the spill from a drain. There must be some records of how many trees were lost, but I don’t know. I am not responsible for what previous officials did. Existing trees can be saved once the drain is concretised for Rs 4 crore.”
The decision to concretise the drain, which splits the two stretches, was taken only after the go-ahead for the golf course was given.
GDA vice-chairman Santosh Kumar Yadav said the golf course would be developed only over a part of the 49.5-acre stretch and no trees would be felled. He was silent on how the 31.5 acres will be used.