1 lakh trees to be cut for 258km stretch of Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway
The environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee scrutinised a stretch of the project for its nod and deferred the proposal for want of information
Nearly one lakh trees will have to be cut to make way for a part of the 701-km Mumbai-Nagpur super communication highway, which will pass through the Amravati division of Vidarbha.
This 258km alignment, which will run through three districts — Amravati, Washim and Buldhana — will also traverse through a 10-km eco-sensitive zone that includes two wildlife sanctuaries, Katepurna and Karanja Sohal Blackbuck wild life sanctuary, and cut through 166 hectares of forest land.
The central environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee scrutinised this stretch of the project dubbed Part II, for an environment nod on March 26. The panel, in the meeting, raised 11 points and deferred the proposal for want of this information. “The project requires cutting of more than one lakh trees. Project proponent should furnish a detailed list of trees species that need felling along with number of each species and detailed plan for afforestation with three times the number plus provision for replacement plantation,’’ state the minutes of the meeting.
The committee also called for financial details for the afforestation, its maintenance for five years and third-party audit on an annual basis.
It further observed that more than 90% of the land under this stretch is productive agriculture or forest land.
“Cumulative impact of the proposed project on movement of wildlife around Katepura Lake, Karanja-Sohal Blackbuck, and Lonar Lake wild life sanctuaries is required as per guidelines published by Wildlife Institute of India for linear projects,’’ state the minutes.
The EAC has now asked the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), nodal agency implementing the project, to submit to it the status of land acquisition, forest and wild life clearances, additional information on issues raised during public hearings and proposed mitigation measures along with fund provision.
It has also called for examination of the impact of the road alignment on the ground water table.
MSRDC has divided the entire highway into five separate packages or stretches for which environment clearances have been sought separately. The package or stretch II of the project passes through 149 villages across three districts of Amravati, Washim and Buldhana. The cost of this stretch is estimated to be Rs13,017 crore.
The next link or Package III passing from Buldhana to Jalna and Aurangabad across 155 km got an environment clearance in February this year. This stretch requires diversion of 26.87 hectares of forest land and felling of 399 trees in the forest and another 21, 627 trees from the non-forest area.
“While I don’t recollect the exact number of trees impacted by every stretch of the project, the government is committed to complying with conditions laid down for the clearance like afforestation. The state wildlife board has already cleared our project and recommended it. We have agreed with their suggestion to set up a committee to monitor implementation of the mitigation measures,’’ said managing director of MSRDC, Radheshyam Mopalwar.
He said once the department studies the minutes of the meeting, it will prepare a compliance report on all the issues raised by the committee. “No project is cleared in the first go...but we hope to satisfy the committee with the mitigation measures we are planning.’’
The highway project, estimated to cost Rs46,000 crore, is considered to be a pet project of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. It is envisaged as a highway that can link the most backward districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada to Mumbai, cutting down travel time to just 8 hours. The ambitious project also includes building of 24 nodes along the highway as smart cities or agro based industrial hubs to boost development in these areas. However, post protests over land acquisition, this aspect of the project has been kept on the back burner for now.
MSRDC defending the project before the committee had pointed out that the highway will lead to employment during construction and operational phases of this project, lead to development in tourism, industrial parks, smart cities along the route.