National Highway Authority of India shows lethargy in compensating for the lost green cover

While the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has undertaken work in over 10 projects in Chennai region since 2014, it has planted merely 5,170 saplings under the compensatory afforestation scheme and that too in just one project so far.
National Highway Authority of India shows lethargy in compensating for the lost green cover
The NHAI has envisaged the creation of green corridor along highways

Chennai

The scheme is a part of the Green India Mission, which envisages the creation of forest cover spanning five million hectares, besides enhancing the green cover in another 5 million hectares across the country.
When contacted, NHAI project director G Athipathi told DTNext that the scheme has been implemented on the Chennai-Tirupati Highway. “We are yet to begin the works related to compensatory afforestation in the other ongoing projects,” he said.
Work on the four-lane highway, split into five different stretches, was taken up in 2013 at an estimated cost of Rs 571 crore. The 123-km road passes through Kaluru cross in Chandragiri mandal, Puttur, Nagari and Tiruttani. It was built under the Design, Build Finance, Operate and Transfer Toll Basis (DBFOT). Sources said that over 1,500 trees were reportedly removed to lay the road.
In 2015, the government agency submitted its last monthly report on the project regarding the survival of median vegetation. It was stated that only 108 trees falling in the land under Tamil Nadu survived. With around 490 trees found missing, the report said 597 trees were required as a replacement.
“The chances of the trees surviving is minimal as there is no infrastructure in place to maintain them. We need to adopt the model of drip irrigation to water the trees along the highways,” Athipathi acknowledged.
Compensatory afforestation is the need of the hour as several thousand trees are set to be axed for upcoming highways, including the proposed Chennai peripheral road which will result in the felling of 4,997 trees. “However, another 3,991 trees with girth size below 900 mm will be transplanted,” an official said. The Highway department has also cleared 109 trees for the proposed Chennai-Salem Expressway so far.
It is to ensure environmental sustainability, the Central Government brought out the Green Highways (Plantation, Transplantation, Beautification and Maintenance) Policy in 2015. Under this policy, one per cent of the total project cost of any highway contract is to be used for planting trees. Recent estimates say about Rs 50,000 crore has been collected in lieu of forest land diverted under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for non-forest purposes such as mining. 
But observers claim there is very less evidence to show that the money has been utilised properly.
Activist-cum-Advocate ‘Elephant’ G Rajendran said: “While being given the project orders, the NHAI is assigned to take up both plantation and maintenance works. But there is an ambiguity as there is no mention about the kind of plant species that need to be planted. Ideally, native species must be planted along the highways. But what we see in a majority of cases are Ashoka trees.”
“A strict rule should be enforced not to axe roadside trees while carrying out construction works. Instead, they can transplant trees in a scientific manner. The order must be clarified and notified afresh with the aim of providing continuous protection to the greenery. This would make the authorities to fall in line,” added Rajendran.
However, NHAI officials contend that a host of measures have been initiated under the Bharatmala Pariyojana in the recent years to boost the green cover, which is at great risk due to highway projects.
Making money available
The Supreme Court in October 2002 directed that a ‘Compensatory Afforestation Fund’ (CAF) shall be created, in which all the amount received from the user-agencies towards compensatory afforestation shall be deposited. CAF is intended to compensate for the loss of tangible as well as intangible benefits from the forest lands which were diverted for non-forest use. In 2015, the Green Highways policy, introduced by the Central government, made it mandatory to set aside one per cent of the civil cost of national highway projects for the planting and maintenance of trees in a planned manner. The policy entrusted the responsibility of developing a green corridor along highways to the road implementation agencies.
Trees facing the axe
  • Chennai Peripheral Road – 4,997 trees
  • Chennai-Salem Expressway – 6,400 trees, out of which 109 trees have already been cleared 
  • Over 1,500 trees were reportedly removed for the Chennai – Tirupati Highway 

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