Saturday, April 28, 2012

National highway expansion at cost of 13,000 trees: A gain or a loss?

Hiral Dave

Posted: Apr 26, 2012 at 0225 hrs IST
Rajkot RS 102 billion! This is an estimated environmental cost that will be at stake when over 13,000 full grown trees will be cut down to pave the way for expansion of National Highway 8D connecting Jetpur to Somanth.
Once built, this four-lane road will ensure smooth ride to pilgrims and speedy transportation for port and cement related industry, but the development will be a big blow to the environment conservation.
“As per a World Science Congress held in India in 1982, a 50-year-old tree can be valued worth Rs 16 lakh for its contribution in maintaining equilibrium,” said H S Singh, Principal Chief Conservator of Fores (Social Forestry).
According to the Gujarat Ecological and Environment Research Foundation, a tree can be valued at Rs 15.70 lakh. Based on the 1982 World Science Congress, this cost was calculated considering various functions of a tree, including oxygen supply, ecological balance, food production, moisture retaining, retaining soil fertility, pollution control and wood.
The state Forest Department has, while inviting tenders, calculated the value as per Supreme Court guidelines. “As per SC guidelines, a value of one hectare area with plantation, as per variety of trees, can be estimated anything between Rs 4.5 lakh to Rs 11 lakh,” said NHAI Deputy General Manager R S Jhanwar.
The NHAI has so far paid Rs 13.46 lakh to the state Forest Department for compensatory forestation for the non-protected area. “For the protected area, a sum will be decided by the department after a survey, which is on,” said Jhanwar.
According to him, the new road “will open doors for more development”. “There is one of the most important pilgrimage sites, Somnath, besides the Veraval port and industries like cement and chemicals,” he said.
But for environmentalists, the compensation and project reward is “not big enough to compensate” this ecological loss. “Many of these trees are 50-year-old and some are there for the last 30 years. If we add inflation, which is expected to be double after every six years, at present a tree can be valued at Rs 78.50 lakh (five times more than 1982). There are over 13,000 trees. The total value comes at Rs 102 billion,” said Narendra Jhakotra of Vivekanand Education Trust (VET) that has launched drive to save these trees.
While VET has launched a drive to save these trees, top Gujarat forest officials have maintained that tender was invited after all the efforts to save these trees went in vain. “Re-plantation of the trees is not possible as these are very big and cannot be transported,” said Singh

“We know what is at stake. The loss cannot be compensated. But this was the last option,” said a top forest department official.

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