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Samruddhi or Sans the Trees? | Habitat Loss

SAMRUDDHI OR SANS THE TREES? Mumbai-Nagpur expressway

The 701 km long ambitious highway is said to create last-mile connectivity between Mumbai and Nagpur thereby cutting down on the travel time by as much as 50%. While it is said to boost economic and tourist activities and connect various prominent cities of Maharashtra, all of this comes at a huge price, the repercussions of which would be felt deeply in the coming years.

There is no denying that the project has generated a good deal of employment during the construction period and will further generate more opportunities in the form of better connectivity with various towns. But the felling of more than 2 lakh trees, cutting through 166 hectares of forest land and not to mention the traverse through a 10km eco-sensitive zone that includes two wildlife sanctuaries puts all the fruits of the Samruddhi Mahamarg into question. We need to ask one fundamental question- Are benefits reaped out of the so called ‘development projects’ actually worth the cost in terms of unconditional and irreversible damage to the environment?

The project initially faced huge backlashes from the public. Impact on agricultural land and soil fertility, rehabilitation and compensation of displaced communities, habitat loss of tribals, effects of air pollution on horticultural crops, and flooding some of the reasons for the backlash. The project was pushed ahead despite the pleas and protests of farmers in about 6 districts. More than 90% of the land acquired under the project is productive agricultural or forest land. Land owners, blindfolded by the Land Pooling Scheme introduced by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) voluntarily gave up their land in return for a plot in a developed area along with other benefits.

There goes an infamous saying, actions speak louder than words. MRSDC’s promise of planting 8 lakh trees seems too good to be true. Huge goals have been set without considering strategies. The duty of the government goes beyond just planting these saplings. There is no certainty as to how 1 litre of water will be provided to each of the 8 lakh saplings every day. There will also be a lag for 20 years as saplings cannot compensate for fully grown trees, the plantation drive cannot recover the green cover immediately. Tree activist Zoru Bathena called upon the government over the unprecedented felling of trees as it is becoming easier to obtain clearances from the government which is eventually harmful for the environment.

Looking at the bright side is the announcement of being Vocal for Local, use fly ash and plastic wherever possible in the construction of the highway. Rain water is said to be harvested from the expressway and it is also being equipped to be able to generate solar power. However one needs to think if all of this compensates for all the damage caused to the ecosystem. Not only that, farming land in excess of what is required for the project was acquired and these lands are where our lunch and dinner comes from. To encapsulate, would one now like to compromise his/her daily share of Rajma Chawal in exchange for the construction of a road?


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