Trees planted in the green belt on the Ram Tirath road behind the Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) suffered damage in a fire on Friday, much to the distress of the protesting environment lovers.
The shocking development came on a day when, anguished over the “mindless” felling of green trees, various NGOs, including Mission Aagaaz, Voice of Amritsar, Jan Kalyan Sangathan, Lok Kalyan Samiti and Amritsar Vikas Manch, launched an indefinite ‘Harit Satyagrah’ (green agitation) in the city.
The trees, which got burnt in the fire in the green belt on the Ram Tirath road were planted under the ‘Go Green’ campaign.
Prior to this, a tree-burning incident was reported in the area in February this year when the GNDU staff set fire to its own green belt, leaving at least a dozen trees burnt.
Adding insult to the injury, right along the same boulevard, some of the trees planted by Mission Aagaaz were burnt on Friday when someone lit a fire to dispose of garbage.
“The development is quite disconcerting, coming on a day when the NGOs braved the intolerable heat to protest the mindless felling of green trees in the city,” said Deepak Babbar, director, Mission Aagaaz.
He called upon the GNDU authorities and the district administration to put an end to the practice of setting fire to the green spaces in the name of dealing with weeds, foliage and garbage as it causes damage to trees, shrubs and saplings planted there.
Nearly 1,000 trees have already been felled in the city this year while another 1,000 green trees face the prospect of being axed for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) project, which the protesting NGOs have opposed, demanding that the project be reviewed to save as many trees as possible.
Besides, the plantation of costly xerophytes (desert plants) like palm trees in place of shady green trees is a major cause of concern for the environmentalists, in view of the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked Amritsar as the 14th most polluted city in the world.
The xerophytes, according to the environment lovers, are not as capable as their traditional counterparts in controlling air pollution.
“Being xerophytes, the texture of the leaves of palm trees is hard, having few stomata, so they do not transpire. Due to non-transpiration, they do not make any contribution for the purification of the atmosphere,” said Kulwant Singh Ankhi, president, Amritsar Vikas Manch.
On Friday, various NGOs held a protest as part of ‘Harit Satyagrah’ outside the Hall Gate here.
“We are not against development but it should not be at the cost of green lungs of the city that play a vital role in the survival of human beings. It is shocking that the government has given nod to mass slaughter of fullygrown trees without giving a thought to any other alternative that could save those trees,” said Gurbhej Singh, general secretary, Mission Aagaaz.
He added that the deputy commissioner and the Amritsar municipal corporation commissioner had given a verbal assurance that trees standing at a distance of six feet from the road will not be axed but these instructions are not being followed in true spirit by the contractor concerned as well as the PWD department.
“If the cutting of trees continues unabated, Amritsar will soon lose its left-over green cover which has already been reduced to large extent,” he said.
Under the ‘Harit Satyagraha’, the NGOs intend to stage a series of peaceful protests in front of the offices of mayor, municipal commissioner, deputy commissioner, additional deputy commissioner (development), executive engineer PWD (B& R), Amritsar improvement trust as well as office of local bodies minister Anil Joshi and “force them to come out of their cool offices and assess the hardship to be faced by the common man in the absence of adequate green cover”.
Municipal commissioner Pradeep Sabharwal said the representatives of various NGOs had met the officials concerned in this regard. “Efforts are afoot to save as many trees as possible,” he added.