India Today - - INSIDE - By Asit Jolly

An es­ti­mated 33,000 trees, in­clud­ing some of the old­est conif­er­ous de­o­dars in Ut­tarak­hand, are be­ing marked for felling to make way for the Char Dham Ma­hamarg Vikas Pariy­o­jana—an all-weather high­way for which Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi laid the foun­da­tion stone in Dehradun last De­cem­ber.

The Rs 12,000 crore project, be­ing ex­e­cuted by the Na­tional High­ways and In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion Ltd (NHIDCL) and Bor­der Roads Or­gan­i­sa­tion (BRO), is meant to en­able seam­less, year-round road con­nec­tiv­ity to the Kedar­nath, Badri­nath, Ya­munotri and Gan­gotri shrines as well as Tanakpur. It in­cludes seven stretches of na­tional high­ways 58, 108, 109 and 125, adding up to some 900 kilo­me­tres. Ut­tarak­hand for­est depart­ment doc­u­ments re­port­edly say that close to 19,000 trees will be cut just along the RishikeshBadri­nath sec­tion in the Naren­drana­gar for­est divi­sion.

In May, the Na­tional Green Tri­bunal had is­sued no­tices to the Union min­istries for en­vi­ron­ment and forests and road trans­port, Ut­tarak­hand gov­ern­ment, NHIDCL and BRO on a pe­ti­tion claim­ing the project vi­o­lated the Bha­gi­rathi Eco-Sen­si­tive Zone no­ti­fi­ca­tion. In re­sponse, the BRO sub­mit­ted an af­fi­davit that the pro­posed high­way would be of strate­gic im­por­tance be­cause of prox­im­ity to the China bor­der and that it was im­per­a­tive to im­prove the roads to move heavy ar­tillery and other weapons in case of ag­gres­sion. The BRO’s coun­sel also as­sured the NGT that ev­ery tree marked for felling would be re­viewed in con­sul­ta­tion with the state for­est depart­ment.

Re­spond­ing to an in­dia to­day query, a se­nior aide quoted Ut­tarak­hand chief min­is­ter Triven­dra Singh Rawat as say­ing: “De­vel­op­ment projects have to be un­der­taken.” He also cited Rawat’s lead in overseeing the plan­ta­tion of 10 mil­lion saplings across the state’s hills this mon­soon. Dehradun-based en­vi­ron­ment ac­tivist Anil Prakash Joshi says the gov­ern­ment must make pub­lic a blue­print of the Char Dham project. “The Hi­malayas are an eco­log­i­cally sen­si­tive zone. De­vel­op­ment plans must be eco­log­i­cally in­clu­sive,” he says.

33 THOU­SAND trees face the axe for the pro­posed all-weather Char Dham high­way


On way to the Kedar­nath shrine

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