Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Ecological vandalism

Earlier this year, the government move to axe over 16,000 trees in Delhi for road widening projects and setting up new colonies inspired a massive campaign with civilians volunteering to hug the trees and not allowing them to be felled; also the Delhi high court stepped in to ban the felling of trees. A far bigger number of trees are systemically being felled in Nagaland almost on a regular basis over various pretexts but nobody even bats an eyelid. The four-lane road project between Dimapur and Kohima has resulted in haphazard and reckless chopping of the green belt along the Dimapur-Kohima highway stretch in recent months. Thousands of trees are being chopped for the road widening project. A similar onslaught on trees is going on in other parts of the State for two-lane road projects under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in North East (SARDP-NE). These projects are resulting in acquisition of land from private owners including agricultural lands, whose livelihoods are also at stake. The reckless acquisition of farming lands for road widening projects or clearing forest land for housing or other developmental project is not only impacting the environment, it will also be impacting many livelihoods. Though officially, claims of compensating for the ecological vandalism and for affected livelihoods are made, these are bogus when they are implemented on the ground. While a pittance is paid to the affected populations through acquisitions that give them no choice of challenging it, there can never be enough compensation for felling trees with the promise of planting new saplings in the prescribed ratio of 1:10, that is, ten trees for each tree that is felled. Firstly, the newly planted saplings can never be equated a fully grown tree that is felled. Secondly, the culture of complacency and corruption does not ensure the implementation of this promise. Had that been true, the number of trees every decade should have increased not decreased. Past experiences have shown that despite such assurances from government, not even a fraction of trees that are uprooted are planted. Thirdly, the plantation drives are often planned either mindlessly or with a deliberate intention to sabotage by starting them in areas which are not scientifically viable options. Unfortunately, the voices of opposition to such acts of ecological vandalism remain far too feeble. Because of the existence of culture of corruption, the green gold has been plundered without any accountability to the extent that some of the protected species of trees have also been recklessly felled with utmost impunity. Added to this, timber smuggling in this state has been going on for decades often with official patronage. The silence to all this loot does not only stem from lack of awareness or lack of concern about the disastrous impact of ecological vandalism. Since the business of felling of trees is connected to development enterprise in which many beneficiaries and contractors have a vested interest, besides corrupt officers, the approach to such issues is guided by the greed of the elite as well as the absence of far-sightedness of the political class as well as their own petty pecuniary and political benefits. At the union government level, some years ago, all environment related norms were relaxed to suit the business interests of some. As of today, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has been reduced to a department for facilitating clearances for projects to suit “ease of business” policy which has allowed the user agencies to go ahead with the felling of trees to pave way for development projects. While there is need for adequate and better laws to deal with the situation, there is greater need for implementation of laws as well as a robust and active civil society that can play a pro-active role.