The National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders last-week restraining Punjab from cutting trees have stalled the rehabilitation of the Bist Doab Canal meandering through Jalandhar and Nawanshahr districts.
Fearing widespread floods and no farming on 2.5 lakh acres in Doaba region this season in case the project is not over before June 30, the state irrigation department will move the green court in another three days and request it to vacate the order. Principal secretary for irrigation Kahan Singh Pannu said more trees were required to be sacrificed for the project. “The canal has already been demolished at many places and if the rehabilitation isn’t complete before monsoon, floods across the dismantled portions will destroy a huge amount of life and property,” he said.
The project is crucial for irrigating these 2.5-lakh acres in the Kharif season starting the first week of July. “The sowing will begin in about 40 days. We may fail to cultivate a large part of it, if we can’t use the canal,” said Pannu. Before the NGT order of May 20, the canal completion and the felling of trees were on a war footing. Two irrigation department circles led by superintending engineers and four divisions led by an executive engineer each were on the job. “All that has stopped but public interest requires that it be restarted,” said the principal secretary for irrigation.
Regretting that the irrigation department had not been made party to the case, Pannu claimed it had secured all the relevant permissions a few months ago, adding: “Even the department of forest in the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change allowed us to axe trees.”
ROAD WORK ALSO HIT
The ban on tree-felling has affected four-to-five major widening projects on the state highways. The turning of the 125-kilometre Nakodar-Moga Barnala stretch of National Highway-71 into four lanes, for which 25,000 were being cut; and the widening of 58-km-long Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur road, for which contract was awarded recently and land acquired, have both suffered. Public works department (PWD) chief engineer AK Singla of the central works division said the order would delay two more six- and four-lane projects — on the 100km Ludhiana-Chandigarh road and the Zirakpur-Patiala highway — where tree cutting was to begin after land acquisition. Principal chief conservator of forest Kuldeep Kumar Lomis said all deputy commissioners and heads of the government departments had orders to cut no more trees until further directions
He said the central government had cleared these development projects after diverting forestland. “We are studying the reasons for the NGT ban before we ask for its lifting at the next hearing on July 8,” said Lomis.