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Worries double for fragile ecology
Highway project to deplete green cover

Ranchi, Dec. 6: The price of development is making green crusaders see red.

More than 80,000 trees — most of them ancient and indigenous species — are being felled for the ambitious four-laning of the 135km Ranchi-Hazaribagh stretch of NH-33. The move has earned the ire of environmentalists and prompted Bulu Imam, the Hazaribagh-based convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage, to seek central intervention.

According to well-placed sources in the forest department, not just trees along Ranchi-Hazaribagh Road, some 300,000 sal trees dotting 40km from Hazaribagh to Barhi are also facing the axe. Four-laning of another 300km from Govindpur to Sahebganj will cost 200,000 trees.

In addition, for Ranchi-Patratu-Ramgarh (62km) lane, 6,654 trees (23.187 hectares of forestland) are being cleared in Ranchi alone while 5,230 more trees from 102.726 hectares of forestland will also be felled for the project.

However, the department is yet to come out with details. According to principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) C.R. Sahay, who is also the executive director of the Wasteland Development Board, the forest department was compiling a report.

The so-called measure for development has understandably ruffled green feathers.

Imam said the four-laning project was destroying indigenous and useful plant species. On October 6, he wrote a letter to Union minister for forest and environment Jairam Ramesh, seeking his intervention. In late September, an appeal had also been sent to chief minister Arjun Munda.

“But we are yet to receive response from these quarters. I only got a response from the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) stating that it will pay for afforestation activities,” said Imam.

Forest department sources said for each hectare of land deforested, the NHAI would have to pay for plantation on two hectares as per rules. But the time-taking process may ruin the ecological balance.

“The trees that are being felled along Ranchi-Hazaribagh Road are mature, ancient, indigenous and sacred.

“Even if you plant another tree, it will take years to grow. And in the meantime the ecological balance will be ruined. For example, Hazaribagh-Bagoder road that runs along Damodar river boasts of one of the most pristine jungles in India and that will be lost,” Imam said.

“Also, the state has been suffering from drought for two years. With such huge number of trees being felled, imagine what will happen next year?” he added.

Offering a suggestion to reduce the negative impact of development, Imam had urged the state government to use trees as dividers during the widening project, but his pleas have been ignored.

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