Irrespective of the concerns being raised by the residents over poor environment in the world’s 14th most polluted (World Health Organisation rank) city, 800 more trees are marked for cutting to make way for Rs 500-crore Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS).
The fact came to light on Thursday during a presentation on the proposed BRTS. It aimed at pacifying the environment lovers with the promise of replacing the green trees with ornamental shrubs. The forest department proposed planting 20-lakh tree saplings, even when it has not enough land to plant these.
“The presentation was eyewash. Why were the NGOs not consulted before announcing the project? What was the need for the project, when already we have the city bus service?” said Mission Aagaaz general secretary Gurbhej Singh, adding: “The forest department neither has the land around Amritsar nor the expertise to plant so many trees.”
All that the forest department had ever planted in the name of trees was shrubs such as alistonia and kaner, said Gurbhej Singh. In place of traditional shady trees, it had planted xerophytes such as palm, many on the stretch from Jandiala to Bhandari Bridge and inside Company Gardens.
“Besides being costly, the ornamental trees are unviable environmentally as well. Palm leaves have hard texture and few stomata, so they transpire only a little, and so contribute nothing to purify the air,” he said.
State Forest Report 2011 stated that Amritsar had enhanced its forest cover by 16 square kilometers in spite of being a nonforest area. The administration seems to have taken a U-turn in deciding to curt trees in the name of development. More than 1,000 green trunks already have been felled this year, while the tally for the past two years is more than 2,500.
The public works department data suggests that 965 trees were to be felled for BRTS, that those include the ones at Mall Road and on the 30-kilometre route from India Gate (Attari road) to the railway station. Queen’s Road, Crystal Chowk, Company Gardens, SSSS Chowk, Celebration Mall and Verka, Court Road, Kitchlew Chowk, Rialto Chowk, Bhandari Bridge, and Elevated Road to Daburji will all lose their green cover.
Tree huggers had saved 187 shady trees on Mall Road, where at least 327 were marked for cutting. “We’ll save as many possible,” said Amritsar Vikas Manch president Kulwant Singh Ankhi.
Mission Aagaaz director Deepak Babbar wants the BRTS project reviewed. “The trees from Kitchlew Chowk to Airport Road, New Amritsar to India Gate and Mall Road are on protected forestland and so
cannot be axed,” he said.
Divisional forest officer NS Randhawa said the 20-lakh saplings had been raised in nurseries. “Of these, 7 lakh will be given to the NGOs, army, educational institutions, and village communities and the rest grown into tall plants for future plantation under the job guarantee scheme,” he said.