It’s a done deal. Project for 4 laning of Parwanoo – Shimla stands approved. Thousands of trees have been hacked for construction of the Parwanoo – Solan stretch. Thousands more will be sawed for the Solan – Shoghi stretch.
Total cost of the 65.5 hectares of forest land transferred to National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and minimum number of 21,585 trees, 1604 seedlings and 10,221 saplings that have to be removed to pave the way for the road on 9th January, 2015 was evaluated at Rs 18,89,33,145.
Against the demand raised NHAI on 13th March, 2015 paid Rs 8,71,92,790/- as Net Present Value (NPV) of the forest land needing to be diverted into the Himachal CAMPA account and furthermore Rs 9,31,40,305/- into the account of Divisional Forest Officer, Solan on 16th March, 2015 for cost of trees including saplings to be cut, departmental charges and VAT levied.
For constructing the Parwanoo – Solan stretch, the Divisional Manager, Forest Working Division, Solan, in response to an RTI query has disclosed that of a total of 12,508 trees marked for cutting as on 31st March 2016 a total of 11,984 already been cut.
Only on 4th May, 2016 the union cabinet committee on economic affairs (CCEA), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the four laning of the Shimla Bypass (Kaithlighat to Shimla section) of National Highway – 22 at a cost of Rs 1583.18 crore.
On approval the CCEA in a official communique stated, “The main object of the project is to expedite the improvement of infrastructure in Himachal Pradesh and also in reducing the time and cost of travel for traffic, particularly heavy traffic, plying on the Kaithlighat to Shimla section on National Highway-22.
The development of this stretch will also help in uplifting the socio-economic condition of the concerned regions of the State and would also increase employment potential for local labourers for project activities.”
Surely the road infrastructure would be upgraded and will help to remove the congestion building up on the two lane Parwanoo – Shimla highway.
But nobody seems to answering how and where will the over 33,000 trees that are marked for cutting of this road project would be replaced by compulsory afforestation.
“All are passing the buck,” says Himanshu Thakur, an RTI activist who has questioned National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI), Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoEF), Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) and Himachal Pradesh State Forest Department about the forest land diversion for the highway and about the compulsory afforestation with new trees to be planted to replace the ones being cut down.
Mr Satish Kaul, Chief Public Information Officer, NHAI in response to Himanshu’s RTI query on 16th March, 2016 has stated that the permission to cut the trees was granted by MoEF.
Moreover, NHAI has the ownership of all wood, timber that was extracted from the massive tree felling.
The question as to how many trees have been cut for the road construction was passed onto the HP Forest Development Corporation, Solan. Where the Solan Divisional Manager Forests has disclosed about the number of trees cut, both neither he nor the state forest department has disclosed the amount of funds received nor have they disclosed as to how CAMPA funds are utilized or how many trees have been planted from CAMPA funds in the last 10 years.
Kaul has also declared that NHAI has paid no money to HP Forest Department for cutting of the trees and the task of planting new trees to compensate for the loss of flora and fauna was entrusted to the State Forest Department under compensatory afforestation.
But the State Forest Department, in response to the RTI query has not disclosed about the funds received under CAMPA or about how and where it plans to undertake the plantation drives to replace the trees being cut.
Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change in its letter F No 8-11/2014-FC dated 30th December, 2014 granted the approval as “the Central Government hereby conveys the Stage I approval for diversion of 65.50 hectares of forest land in favour of NHAI for laying of NH-22 Parwanoo to Solan (67 Km) within the jurisdiction of Solan Forest Division, subject to fulfillment of conditions, which included:
The state government was asked to charge Net Present Value of the forest land being diverted and NHAI as the user agency was asked to pay for it. NHAI has deposited the amount in the state CAMPA bank account.
One of the conditions imposed by MoEF was, “Any tree felling shall be done when it is unavoidable and that too under strict supervision of the State Forest Department.”
On its part the State Forest Department on 9th January, 2015 put the Net Present Value (NPV) of the forest land diverted for the highway project at Rs 6,15,04,500/; the cost of compulsory forestation was put at Rs 2,56,88,290/; a department charge (17.5%) of Rs 44,95,450/ was levied; Cost of trees including saplings was put at Rs 8,24.25,037/; VAT (@ 13.75%) was Rs 1,07,15,3018/; Cost of Building Rs 86 lakh; making a total demand of Rs 18,89,33,145/- for diversion of the 65.5 hectares of forestland with the trees.
An document that assesses the total number of trees coming in the widening of the highway from Parwanoo to Shogi of Solan Forest Division put the minimum number trees that needed to be cut at 21,585 besides there being 1604 seedlings and 10,221 saplings.
Seeking to know the status of CAMPA Funds and their utilization against the NH 22 project, MoEF in response to Himanshu Thakur’s RTI query as to how this amount would be spent; how many trees and of what type would be planted where; in last 10 years how much CAMPA funds had been received for NHAI projects in HP and what work CAMPA had done in Himachal Pradesh in the last 10 years, Rajagopal Prashant, the chief public information officer MoEF categorically states, “No such information is available with this office”……..and adds……”this application is being transferred to the Government of Himachal Pradesh for provision of information, if any.”
Himanshu’s question as to where and how the over 33,000 trees being cut for widening of NH 22 would be replaced and how are CAMPA funds being utilized has found no answers.
Cost of the 89 Km Parwanoo to Shimla 4 lane highway has been projected at Rs 2518 crores.