Lucknow, Jan 26 - The four-laning of a highway running eastward from Congress president Sonia Gandhi's Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency has sounded the death knell for tens of thousands of trees.
A drive down the road revealed this, as the union government rolled out the widening of the 166.40-km National Highway (NH) 231, leading to the cutting of more than 100,000 big and small trees, some as old as a century. Not only that. Trees on the 70-km road leading from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow to Rae Bareli are receiving the same treatment.
Thus, on the entire stretch from Lucknow to Rae Bareli and beyond on NH 231, thousands of dead stumps are lying even as the forest department is taking away the felled trees to its godowns in Gadhi Khas and Jhakrasi - both depots in the VVIP constituency from where they are being auctioned to be further sold in the open market.
While most foresters refused to speak on the issue, Onkar, a 'scaler' with the state forest department who counts, lists and submits the logs of trees being cut after due measurement, told IANS that "some felled trees were
120-years-old" and included Babool, Neem, Prospees, Kanj, Imli and Sheesham.
The central government, under the fourth phase of National Highway Development Programme (NHDP) had last July 12 approved the proposal to increase the width of NH 231, originating from Rae Bareli and passing through Salon, Pratapgarh and Machhlishahr before ending at Jaunpur.
Gandhi, chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had July 27, 2012, formally launched work on the road by laying the foundation stone of the Lucknow-Rae Bareli stretch.
Surface Transport and Highways Minister C. P. Joshi had promised that work on the entire stretch would be completed "at the earliest, in a time-bound manner so that visitors to Kumbh (in Allahabad) can use the widened roads". While the Kumbh started January 14, the road is nowhere near being laid as trees are still being cut.
But even as local Congress leaders say this was going to be a "road to prosperity", many in the area are cut up with the reckless slaughtering of the trees.
Bindu Pathak, a villager in Gauriganj, told IANS that the villagers would never accept "vikaas ke liye vinaash" (destruction for progress). Others in the area too are circumspect at the possibility of development.
"While there may be easy access of transport after this road becomes four-lane, but what is the use of such cutting of trees? When we contrast the two, we feel the trees should have been allowed to survive," said Piyush, a student at the Shri Satya Narayan Vidya Mandir school in Nigoha.
Ram Pratap of the Bhagwanpur area was equally critical of the "development model".
"I have seen these trees grow and give us shade in the harsh summer. Witnessing them being killed in such a manner is very saddening," he told IANS while pointing to a mound of massive tree stumps lying on one side of the road.
Work on the road, other than widening, officials say, has also begun. The entire 166.40 km of the highway will be given 'paved shoulders'.
Under this phase, Rae Bareli is getting its connectivity improved on two stretches, 70 km of the Lucknow-Rae Bareli highway and 119 km of the Rae Bareli-Allahabad Road. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) officials say the four-laning of the Lucknow-Rae Bareli stretch is likely to involve an expenditure of approximately Rs 630 crore while the two-laning of Rae Bareli-Allahabad will cost about Rs 290 crore.
But while Rs 78.62 crore is being spent for land acquisition, rehabilitation, resettlement and pre-construction and Rs 569.36 crore will be for construction, nothing concrete is being done to plant more trees. "There is no such scheme for reforestation as the road goes deep into the sideway villages and very little leg room for plantation is left thereafter," an official informed.
Vartika Misra, a member of an environmental group working to save trees, termed this "sad news."
"It is terrible that so many trees have been cut for widening of a road, at some point there has to be a balance," she observed. (IANS)