Once the Zirakpur-Bathinda highway gets four-laned, commuters would be in for a word-class experience. Not only would the journey duration come down, the drive would be less tiring due to lesser traffic bottlenecks. But, the luxury is coming at a cost: nearly 96,000 trees will have to be axed for widening of the 200-km stretch.
The project, aiming at ensuring fast flow of traffic from Bathinda to Chandigarh and minimising accidents on the stretch, would be completed at an estimated Rs 2,500 crore.
Claiming it to be a milestone achieved by his government, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had laid the stone of the project a week ago. He had said the four-hour journey would be reduced to two-and-a-half hours.
Work on the project will start soon with the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests giving a green signal to it from Zirakpur to Patiala. The approval for the remaining stretch (from Patiala to Bathinda) seems to be a mere formality.
Principal Conservator of Forests HS Gujral said: “The state Forest Department has recommended approval for the remaining stretch as well. Around 1,000 acres of forestland will be cleared.”
Though almost a lakh trees are to be axed, no environmentalist has so far stood up to save the green cover. Half of these trees were planted a decade ago under a Rs 450 crore afforestation project. The Union Government had taken the money as loan from Japan, with a promise that the country would work towards improving the depleting forest cover.
Gujral said: “Such projects are planned by the state government and forest officials merely give recommendations when it is provided with alternate land and money for planting new trees.” He, however, said the department was committed to afforestation and double the number of trees axed for this road project would be planted.
Chief Conservator of Forests Kuldip Kumar said: “The trees that will be cut are of Sheesham, Neem, Arjuna, Brahma Drek, Melia, Keekar and Eucalyptus.”
Earlier, over a lakh trees along the National Highway-1 from Shambu to Jalandhar were cut to pave way for the widening of the stretch.
‘DEVELOPMENT COMES AT A COST’
PWD engineer-in-chief RP Singh said expanding the road without removing the trees would not have been possible. “Development comes at a cost, mostly of the environment. But, we have tried to minimise the loss. We are giving land in Kandi area along the Shivalik hills for planting double the number of trees,” he said. On “faulty” planning as the project had affected the afforestation scheme funded by Japan, he said the four-laning project was planned only two years ago
‘BIG LOSS TO ENVIRONMENT’
Dr Suman Maur, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the Panjab University in Chandigarh, said a single tree provided a year’s supply of oxygen to 10 persons. “By that count, crores of persons will be affected if the number of trees that are being cut is taken into account,” she said. She said the state government should plan roads or railway tracks in advance so that trees are not cut. “They should earmark future expansion to six or eight-laning and accordingly plant trees.”
‘1,000 ACRES TO BE CLEARED’
Principal Conservator of Forests HS Gujral said: “The state Forest Department has recommended approval for the remaining stretch (from Patiala to Bathinda) as well. Around 1,000 acres of forestland will be cleared.” Gujral said: “Such projects are planned by the state government and forest officials merely give recommendations when it is provided with alternate land and money for planting new trees.”
Originally Published By The Tribune