Punjab’s principal chief conservator of forest has claimed in his latest reply before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that the state forest department has already carried out nearly half of the compensatory planting in the same districts which were affected by axing 97,000 trees in order to widen the 200-km Zirakpur-Bathinda (National Highway-64).
The highway connects Mohali, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala and Bathinda districts.
The NGT is hearing the matter after Sangrur-based Dr Amandeep Aggarwal, a member of Indian Medical Association, moved a petition last month, pleading for compensatory planting on both sides of the under-constructed highway as directed by the environment ministry to the state government while giving permission for widening the project back in 2012.
Countering the petitioner, head of the state forest department cited the Forest Conservation Act 1980 to claim that the compensatory planting was generally carried out either on the non-forest land on the area equivalent to forest land diverted for road projects and in case, the compensatory afforestation is done on degraded forest land (which includes mostly barren or waste land), the planting under it increases twice the diverted forest land.
He told the tribunal that in this highway project, 396.92 hectare of forest land were diverted to the central PWD department along the Zirakpur-Bathinda highway, which ended up axing 97,001 trees to widen it. As a result, the degraded land was selected in the same districts from where the forest land was diverted for the project for the compensatory planting.
“Of total compensatory afforestation of 793.96 hectare (double the area diverted for the project), the plantation has already been done on 354 hectare in affected areas.
The 145 hectare will be planted in the coming monsoon season, while the remaining 295 hectare will be planted during next year’s monsoon season,” he told the tribunal.
The tribunal was further apprised that nearly 8,000 hectare of plantation was also done under other schemes on forestation in the affected districts of NH-64.
BUNDLE OF LIES, SAYS PETITIONER
When contacted, petitioner Dr Aggarwal said the reply by principal chief conservator was contradictory to the recent media statements by the Punjab forest minister, who was quoted saying that his department could not find suitable land in the affected districts for compensatory planting and hence Kandi area in Hoshiarpur was selected for mandatory afforestation.
“The government’s sudden change in stand that half of the compensatory plantation was already done in affected districts seems bundle of lies since the list of such afforestation as attached with its reply lacked factual information like year and number of tree plantation, current condition of those trees, etc,” he said.
Further most of such plantation has been done along the canal area, the maintenance of which is otherwise the duty of the government. He said any plantation in these areas before the widening project had no relevance and in this case, the government seemed to have been manipulating the facts to hide its failures.
The matter will come up for hearing on May 19.