If citizen activism and uproar over the possible loss of around 850 trees effectively stalled the controversial steel flyover project in Bengaluru, more than 3,000 trees are quietly making way for widening of the Hassan–Sakleshpur stretch of national highway 75.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has taken up upgrading of the two-lane carriageway into four-lane in Hassan–Bantwal section. A total of 3,070 trees will have to be removed, and with no opposition so far, the tree-felling is on in full swing.
The acquisition of land for the project is almost complete, except a small portion for the Ballupete bypass, for which the notification was issued last week. For the past few weeks, vehicles have been stopped on the Hassan–Marenahalli stretch to allow for the tree cutting to proceed.
The road widening is expected to ease the traffic on the Bengaluru–Mangaluru highway. A public consultation on the impact of the project on environment was conducted in Sakleshpur on July 15, 2014. A few of those who attended the meeting expressed worry that the project might aggravate man-elephant conflict. However, other main issues discussed, according to the proceedings recorded by the district administration, included suitable compensation for land-losers and width of the proposed bypass for Sakleshpur.
Ramesh Babu, Assistant Conservator of Forests, told The Hindu , the user agency (NHAI) had paid ₹1.43 crore, the value of the trees being cut, to the Department of Forests. “We issue transit permits to the user agency to carry the timber. We have taken the reserved category trees (such as honne and teak) to our reserves,” he said.
Asked if there was any objection to the massive tree-felling, the officer said “no”. People understood the necessity of the project and widening of the road, given the increasing traffic. Nobody objected to the tree-felling, the officer said.
He said the NHAI had also paid the amount required for compensatory afforestation. According to norms, for each tree cut, 10 trees have to be grown to compensate the loss. The Department of Forests has taken ₹1,900 for each tree cut for the afforestation activity, from the NHAI.