After nearly 6,000 large trees, including those in the forest area, were felled by NHAI, TOI visited the 41 km stretch to find that 70% of the planted saplings died due to poor maintenance.
Nagpur: The grand claims of the National Highways Authority India (NHAI) to develop green highways have once again been exposed. This time, it is on the NH353D, between Nagpur and Umred, that more than 70% of the saplings planted in place of the felled trees died.
On April 4, TOI reported that more than 60% of the plantations on the 29 km Saoner-Gondkhairi (NH-547) section had died. Now, the same story has repeated itself on the Umred-Nagpur highway.
A visit to the 41km stretch says a lot about how unscientific planting is done by the highway authority. More than 70% of young trees died and turned into thin stumps due to poor maintenance. According to information received under the RTI Act and also from the MoEFCC portal, the NHAI felled almost 6,000 large trees, including those in the forest area.
“Given the heavy traffic on the road that connects Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts as well as wildlife parks like Umred-Karhandla and Tadoba, its expansion was much needed. The new road has reduced travel time, but at the same time, the highway looks desolate without trees,” says Amrut Naik, a tourist.
TOI found that there was only one water tanker to water the dry middle plantation. Mohammed Naseem, who runs a puncture repair shop near Heti, said: “I see a water tanker watering young trees in rotation once a week. So, the turn of some watered saplings comes after 10-15 days, due to which the saplings must be dying.
More than 70% of young trees on both sides of the road are either dead or withered. These plants look like they haven’t been watered for a long time. In some places, young trees were planted in two and three rows on debris. Near the same places, pits were dug to prepare for planting during the rains.
NHAI project director YL Yeotkar denied large-scale mortality. Listing the statistics, Yeotkar said, “We are proposing to plant 24,867 avenue trees and 17,234 on the median. Of these, 18,693 avenue plantings have been completed to date and 4,879 saplings have been found dead. Similarly, 14,951 median plantings were carried out, of which 958 were found dead. We have drawn up a program of new plantations on the road to Umred. We have dug 5,664 pits and plan to create 5,389 more to occupy avenue plantings.
TOI did a spot check a week ago and the story looks different. The data provided by the NHAI does not mention the date of the last survey of these young trees. Second, the highways authority felled at least 50 to 100 year old trees that were planted during the British Raj and the middle plantings cannot be considered trees at all. On several sections, there were no median plantations.
“With over 100 stone quarries and the WCL Coal Mine near Umred, pollution is at its peak, so planting trees on this stretch is the only way to mitigate the damage. The irony is that highways aren’t going green in Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari’s own region, forget the country. No liability is fixed against the contractor or those responsible,” said Anasuya Kale-Chhabrani, founder of the Swacha Association.
She says that the compensatory planting is not carried out according to IRC standards and that the certification which should be given only after ground verification is not followed. “Once the certificate has been issued, the entrepreneur has nothing more to lose. Therefore, even the four-year maintenance period is never met, turning the plantation into a major failure.
“It is high time that Gadkari set up a neutral committee to verify the NHAI plantations in the region and also carry out a third-party audit. Simply issuing show cause notices to contractors will not help,” Chhabrani said.
Prachi Mahurkar, tree expert and founder of Punarnava Ecological Services, said, “NHAI plantations are failing due to poor selection of plant species and unscientific way of planting them. There is also no mandatory protection for at least three years. They opt for fast growing trees and these young trees also die. There is total negligence on the part of the contractors.
Besides the bad plantings, there are multiple problems on the highway. Near the VIT College of Engineering piles of fly ash were dumped. The ash dust spreads to neighboring farms causing crop damage and is also a source of pollution for passers-by.
In many places, debris was dumped on forest land and roadside, but the forest department is silent. Near Paradgaon, where forest land has been diverted for road widening, no wildlife overpass has been sought by the department, even though it knows the forest area is habitat for listed animals like wolves and jackals, and other wild animals.
Approaching the village of Heti, a selfie point was created on a slope exposing a body of water adjoining the forest. This lake, which is visited by wild animals, was previously not visible due to hills and forest cover. Now it is exposed to mischief that will disturb wildlife.