|Numbered Days: Old trees near Tocklai Tea Research Institute that will be cut down. Telegraph picture
Jorhat, Aug. 1: Dwipen Bora, 50, wakes up every morning dreading the loss of his childhood companions as men armed with axes and saws move inexorably closer to his house, cutting down trees along the 20km Jorhat-Mariani Road to make way for its widening.
Nearly 200 trees, a few of which are more than a 100 years old, have already been felled while many others await the same fate, triggering concern and a demand for re-plantation as soon as the work is completed.
“I have seen many of these trees since childhood. They have been my companions. I remember my father telling me that some of these trees have been there since the days of my grandfather,” says Bora. He lives near Tocklai Tea Research Institute, which is located on that road. The men with their axes and saws are just about a kilometre to the south.
“I have now heard that these trees would be felled to make way for a wider road. It will be a very sad moment for me when these huge trees are cut down. It will be like losing childhood friends,” he said wistfully.
The road, which connects Assam to Nagaland in the south, will be widened to 12 metres from the existing 5.5 metres. A drain and a pavement will be constructed along it. A railway track from Jorhat town to Mariani lies on the other side of the road. Work on the first phase of the World Bank-funded project started recently and is scheduled to be completed next year. The World Bank has already sanctioned Rs 56 crore for the first phase.
Santa Sarma, president of Prakriti, an NGO, told The Telegraph that it was shocking that such a huge number of trees was being felled in the name of development and that, too, at a time when global warming had become a major concern. “We should find ways to carry out development without destroying nature,” she said. She has already asked the authorities to start an afforestation drive soon after the construction work was completed.
Divisional forest officer of Jorhat, S. Saikia, said the forest department had already placed a proposal before the district administration to carry out re-plantation along the road as soon as the work was completed. “We have been asked to cut down these trees so the road may be widened. We understand the cutting down of such a large number of trees would have an impact on the environment but there is no way out,” he said.
An official of the state PWD overseeing the project said an estimate has been made and “the re-plantation drive will begin as soon as the work is over.” He, however, said it was unlikely that the project would be completed within the stipulated time as the Assam State Electricity Board has been delaying shifting the electric posts located along the road. “We have already paid ASEB the money to relocate the power posts and transformers but they are delaying with the work. We are already behind by six months,” he said.