In Meghalaya, outrage over felling of heritage pine trees for road

The felling of several iconic pine trees for widening a road in Meghalaya capital Shillong has triggered outrage, forcing the State government to intervene.

Most of these coniferous trees, among the hill town’s USPs, were more than 100 years old.

Green activists said the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) took advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to chop the pine trees locals were attached to. But the government swung into action on June 23 after photos and videos of the logs lying beside the road from the town’s Rilbong Bridge to Upper Shillong went viral.

This stretch of the road is part of the 71 km Shillong-Dawki four-lane project estimated to cost ₹1,251 crore. Dawki is a trade point on the border with Bangladesh.

Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma asked the NHIDC to immediately stop felling the trees until the government found a better solution. His instruction coincided with an observation of the National Green Tribunal on a Goa bypass that the construction of a road may be a necessity but should not result in the destruction of biodiversity.

The Meghalaya Forest Department said it had received orders to cut down 4,447 trees for the road widening project after it was cleared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The State’s Forest Minister, James Sangma, said the trees on one side of the road were felled as it was “totally unavoidable”. He also said the right of way for the project had been reduced from the standard 45-60 metres to 24 metres in order to minimise the damage.

Forest officials said 10 trees would be planted in lieu of each tree felled. But locals said this would hardly make a difference as the site chosen for compensatory afforestation is in another district.

“We would like to know if the government followed the Indian Forest Act, Biodiversity Act and the Meghalaya Forest Regulation Act before the trees were hewn. Who gave the land for the project and who is funding the destruction of the trees?” activist Agnes Kharshiing, president of Civil Society Women Organisation said.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 12:51:04 PM |

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