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Move to fell century-old trees for widening of road


GUWAHATI, July 31 - The move of the PWD to chop down over 50 large trees � many of those over a century old � along a one-kilometre stretch for widening of the road has evoked resentment from local residents and environmentalists. The stretch falls between Madhyamkhanda and Silsako in North Guwahati.

The trees that include pipul, banyan, elephant apple, etc., have been supporting large colonies of birds besides providing shelter to small mammals, reptiles and insects. It�s also contributing immensely to the well-being of the natural environment and adding to the area�s aesthetic appeal.

Local residents alleged that no public consultation preceded the move to fell the trees even though road widening work had been in progress for a long time.

�It�s most insensitive on the part of the authorities to cut down such huge trees in such large numbers. Many of the shade-giving trees are over a century old and have been the natural shelters for wide-ranging birds, animals and insects. The local people have over the decades developed a strong bonding with the trees and are shocked and grieved that those could no longer be there,� environmental activist Sewali Kalita told The Assam Tribune.

Kalita, who runs an organization �Briksha � Save Tree Save Children�, said that instead of exploring ways to save the trees by some alternative methods, the authorities were opting for the simplest and ruthless way of chopping down the trees.

�We need development but not at this cost. Cutting of a few small trees would have been understandable but to destroy these massive trees that have been there for centuries is unpardonable. The stretch can be widened on the side of the river, too, through land-filling,� she added.

Himangshu Baruah, a local resident termed the move as unfortunate and said that the developments exposed an insensitive mindset on the part of the government authorities towards nature.

�At a time when the entire world is waking up to the dangers of deforestation and stressing on plantation, the opposite is happening here. Moreover, the local people have not been taken into confidence, as there has not been any public consultation. These trees have been supporting a large biodiversity and also rendering various ecosystem services,� he said.

Baruah suggested that latest technologies like uprooting and relocation of existing trees as practised in many countries be adopted by the Assam PWD. �There are technologies available for the purpose. Or, they can realign the road differently to save the trees,� he said.

Environmental activists have been urging the authorities to stop all tree-cutting activities for road widening projects and to undertake a review of the existing policy. This review, they say, should provide a mechanism for genuine public consultation and a detailed scientific assessment the cutting of trees may have on the environment, especially with climate change and harder-hitting climate-related natural disasters.

Across the country, high courts have in recent years taken exception to large-scale tree felling for road construction and infrastructure development. Very recently, the Bangalore Development Authority�s plan to redevelop its old commercial complex at Indiranagar at a cost of Rs 657 crore ran into opposition, with local residents protesting the proposal that involves chopping of 171 small and big trees.

The Karnataka High Court had a few years back asked the Karnataka State Highways Improvement Project (KSHIP) of the Public Works Department to come out with alternative ways to widen certain stretches of state highways in Tumkur division so that all 4,153 trees identified need not be cut.

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