Mohit Khanna, Tribune News Service
Ludhiana, May 4. Three years after over a lakh trees were axed and nearly two lakh plants uprooted for widening of the National Highway-I, Punjab is finding it hard to meet its afforestation target due to paucity of forestland. So much so that the state Forest Department was now planting saplings on common village land and in educational inititutes.
Apart from this, the Centre’s apathy on the ecology front could be gauged from the fact that it has only released Rs 10 crore of the promised Rs 35 crore for tree plantation. The drive was to be initiated to make up for the massive felling done by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
But, the state government too does not appear to be serious. For, it has not even been able to utilise the allocated Rs 10 crore so far. The Forest Department officials blame lack of open land for their going slow on afforestation. They say they were planting saplings on whatever open land they found in schools, colleges or villages.
Chief Conservator of Forests Kuldeep Kumar said the department had transferred 713.911 hectares of land to the NHAI.
“Following the transfer of land, we need to develop forests on 1,528 hectares. We have planted saplings on 217 hectares in Patiala, 100 hectares in Ludhiana and 175 hectares in Jalandhar. Our year-end target is 887 hectares…. Most of the plantation has been done in schools, colleges or on panchayat land,” he said.
Kumar says 400 acres of land had been identified in Garhshankar for plantation. But, the residents living nearby objected to its use for forestry and have even moved court against the step, he says. “The residents fear forests will attract wild animals,” he says. Officials say though a number of NGOs were active in the field, none were ready to help the department in acquisition.
They say as soon as people get to know that their land is to be acquired for afforestation, they jack up prices. “They hike rates three to four times, which gets beyond our reach,” they say.
State government fails to act
It’s been over two years since 10,000 trees were axed for the Rs 400-crore expressway on the southern bypass along Sidhwan Canal in Ludhiana. But, Punjab has so far not provided any land to compensate for the ecological loss through afforestation.
Environmentalists say widening of roads near canals has been a blow for the Forest Department as that was the only chunk of land left with them for planting saplings.