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Home / Mumbai News / After letter from Mahatma Gandhi’s kin, Maharashtra govt to re-examine tree felling near Sevagram Ashram

After letter from Mahatma Gandhi’s kin, Maharashtra govt to re-examine tree felling near Sevagram Ashram

Mahatma Gandhi’s family members wrote a detailed letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday, requesting that the road-widening project be called off to protect the green cover.

mumbai Updated: Sep 04, 2020 01:04 IST
Local citizens and environmental groups had staged protests after 70 trees were felled for the project.
Local citizens and environmental groups had staged protests after 70 trees were felled for the project.(Tushar Gandhi)

The Maharashtra government will re-examine the feasibility of completion of a road-widening project from Wardha to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram. As many as 70 trees have already been cut for the project, which requires felling of 168 trees.

The decision comes after three generations of Mahatma Gandhi’s family wrote a detailed letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday, requesting that the project be called off to protect the green cover.

On July 27, Wardha forest range officer issued an order for the felling of 168 trees along a nine-kilometre (km) stretch from Wardha to Sevagram based on a proposal by the state public works department (PWD) for widening the road from the existing 10 metre to 14 metre. The project was proposed to ease traffic and facilitate movement of tourists to the ashram ahead of Mahatma Gandhi’s 151st birth anniversary next month on October 2.

PWD minister Ashok Chavan said, “Appropriate permissions had been taken to widen the road since a large number of people go to Sevagram every year. The idea was to accommodate high footfall and traffic. Now, we will have to re-examine the matter. It is my understanding that Wardha guardian minister Sunil Kedar is also supportive of the project. However, in consultation with him and considering the sentiments expressed by citizens, we will see to it that there is a way out of this.”

The letter by six members of the Gandhi family led by Bapu’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi and his (Tushar’s) daughter and environmentalist Kasturi, highlighted that some of the trees slated to be felled were much older than the ashram itself. “We, the descendants of Kasturba and Mohandas Gandhi, write to you with folded hands to kindly use your good offices to order the stopping of tree felling on the road from Wardha to Sevagram,” the letter read adding, “These trees bore witness as history was made on a daily basis at Sevagram during the years running up to our freedom, unfortunately we have lost many of these historic heritage trees already, our plea to you is please no more.”

Mahatma Gandhi had been invited to Wardha in 1934 by industrialist Jamnalal Bajaj. The ashram had been set up in village Segaon, which was later named Sevagram, based on Gandhi’s directions in 1936. “These particular trees were planted with a purpose that they would provide shade and shelter for visitors who arrived at Wardha and made the five mile trip to Sevagram by foot,” the letter read.

Speaking to HT, Tushar said these trees were the only source of shelter when Bapu’s followers would walk miles to visit him at the ashram, and that on April 30, 1936, Gandhi and his followers walked to Sevagram in summer heat taking shelter at bamboo huts and Guava trees. “The state’s proposal to cut trees is an unnecessary requirement to increase tourism in the district. This is the first time that three generations of the family came together to appeal against this environmental disaster. Both my aunt and my father had spent many years with Bapu at Sevagram when these barren patches were converted into green zones by planting trees between 1932 and 1934. At the time, Wardha was in the water scarcity area, and all the children were actually given one paisa each to take responsibility for carrying water to each planted tree to ensure they survive,” said Gandhi.

He added that some places need to be left in their pristine condition. “That itself is the charm. However, there is a lack of vision. On one hand, Wardha has been declared a ‘no industry zone’ due its ecological fragility that has led to a lot of discontent among the youth due to lack of employment. On the other, trees are being mercilessly hacked for widening of a road. It is absolutely illogical,” said Gandhi.

Meanwhile, the district administration said they had held a public consultation and there was no opposition following the order. However, after 70 trees were felled by PWD, large protests by local citizens and environmental groups halted further tree felling since the second week of August. “The matter is seized with the government. We have had two meetings with the guardian minister on this issue and discussed the possibility of saving maximum trees. Altering the alignment by a few metres can help save many trees. We have informed the PWD about this, and they are examining it. We are awaiting their feasibility report. Till then no trees would be felled,” said Vivek Bhimanwar, district collector, Wardha.

Three villages were involved in the public consultation and issuing of no-objection certificates (NOC), said Tushar. “While local authorities convinced the sarpanch of Sevagram village to give NOC, later the deputy sarpanch and gram sabha wrote to the collector objecting to it saying not all members were consulted. Remaining two villages refused to issue NOC,” said he adding that tree consultants appointed by PWD have also advised against cutting these trees.

Apart from the 168 trees for the section till the ashram, another 100 trees are proposed to be felled for the entire Wardha-Samudrapur Road, a PWD official said.

District guardian minister Sunil Kedar and state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray did not comment on the matter.

EXCERPTS FROM THE LETTER

Mahatma Gandhi’s descendants include his granddaughter and former Member of Parliament in South Africa, Ela Gandhi; grandsons Rajmohan Gandhi (historian) and Arun Gandhi (socio-political activist based in the United States of America), and Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former governor of West Bengal. The letter was led by Bapu’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi and his (Tushar’s) daughter Kasturi.

Following are messages from each one of them:

Ela Gandhi: I am deeply concerned about environmental issues and particularly now when we, throughout the world, are facing the Covid-19 pandemic which has brought into sharp focus the need to conserve both our environment and water. Trees are a source of water and it is important to do everything in our power to conserve as many trees as we can.

Arun Gandhi: When Bapu acquired the land from Jamnalalji it was not only barren but was almost a desert. It was the toil of the people who lived in the ashram under Bapuji’s supervision that Sevagram became verdant and a testament to preservation of the environment and ecology. Today the world is suffering the effects of years of abuse of the environment and ecology. Future generations will curse us for destroying their future by wanton abuse of the environment and ecology.

Rajmohan Gandhi: I fully support Tushar Gandhi’s efforts to protect the trees that form a precious part of that sacred environment in and around Wardha from where Mahatma Gandhi strengthened the momentum for India’s freedom.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi: On learning from Tushar Gandhi that hundreds of trees are to be felled on the road to Wardha, ostensibly to widen the paths to facilitate tourists to Sevagram, I am reminded of Gandhiji’s clear and uncompromising code about not harming trees ‘in the least’. When such was the priority he accorded to trees in the height of a major public struggle, we can well imagine what his reaction would be to the information that trees are to be felled to facilitate travel to Sevagram.

Kasturi Gandhi: In the case of Wardha, and the larger issue of the expansion of the state highway, the total opposite has happened — where there was a need to increase green cover, there has been mindless hacking of historically and geographically significant trees; there is no damage mitigation plan for forest areas and tiger habitats that the project passes through; and no intention has been expressed to remedy the destruction that is being wrecked.

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