| One of the trees felled to widen the road in front of Modern High School. Picture by Aranya Sen
Till yesterday, they were standing tall, casting a soothing shadow on the pavement in front of Modern High School. Today, they lie there uprooted, hacked and trussed up.
Midnight mayhem has robbed the entire Gariahat Road stretch leading to Park Circus of its greenery, with “around 60 to 70” trees falling to a road-widening drive. And this is just the beginning, with the claim of compensatory plantation — five for each uprooted tree — bordering on the absurd.
“We have got permission for cutting about 410 large and small trees for widening the roads, under package IV from the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB). We have so far cut around 60 to 70,” said S.R. Banerjee, vice-chairman, Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC).
The HRBC, which hosted a celebrated tree-planting ceremony about a month ago, has embarked on a Calcutta Traffic Improvement Development project that promises development of traffic management, but spells doom for the green cover from Gariahat to Park Circus, New Park Street, Mullickbazar to Rawdon Street, Southern Avenue to Gariahat Road (South).
According to pollution control board sources, a “tree-cutting committee”, appointed by the high court, gives the permission to chop after applications are scrutinised by the directorate of forest utilisation. Sumana Bhattacharya, forest utilisation officer who is also convener of the high court-appointed committee, confirms that “the HRBC has been given the permission on the condition that it will plant five trees for felling one”.
But Bhattacharya is clueless about where these saplings could possibly be planted. “The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) will have to provide the area,” she adds.
The CMC, meanwhile, remains in the shade. “We have just received some complaints and I have asked our people to look into the matter immediately,” says member, mayor-in-council (parks and gardens) Hridayananda Gupta. “All these trees are CMC property. How on earth can the contractor fell them'” he demands. “It’s in the contract and the contractor (in this case, Tantia construction company) has the right to chop those trees,” counters HRBC vice-chairman Banerjee.
Greenery chop charge
This is echoed by S. Roy, senior vice-president of Tantia construction
But the contractual 'right to chop' has not managed to stifle the
green lobby. "Greenery has vanished from vast stretches of Gariahat
Road, near the Ice Skating Rink and Modern High School, as well as
from CIT Road. The entire area has been devastated by the loss,"
laments Bonani Kakkar of People United for Better Living In Calcut
ta (PUBLIC), who has already shot off a letter to the CMC in this re
gard. "The city's roads do need to be widened, but the authorities
could have carried out the drive with a little bit of compassion," adds
Kakkar, who is contemplating taking the legal route if required.
Senior CMC officials, meanwhile, complained that though the
tree-chopping permission has come with the condition that the
HRBC would have "to explore the possibility of translocating the
valuable and slow-growing trees", the critical how, when and where
questions remain unanswered.
"We have not yet translocated any tree. CMC experts are identify
ing the trees to be removed to some other spot," say senior Tantia of
ficials. "The 30 to 40 medium and large trees in the Gariahat region
that have already been felled were impossible to be translocated due
to their enormous size," feel HRBC officials. Some more large trees
adjacent to Modern High School should be chopped before the school
reopens next week, say field workers at the spot.
Plant physiology expert Subhendu Mukherjee says the labour
and other costs incurred in translocating large trees are very high.
"Moreover, one needs a high degree of technical expertise to do the
work properly," he adds.