Biggest Environmental Loss To The Nagpur city
In what could be the biggest environmental loss to the city, thousands of old trees are facing the axe for the construction of a transport hub and an inter-model station at Ajni. The project is coming up on Central Railway’s land which is a thriving biodiversity habitat of birds.
The Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), a statutory body under the ministry of railways, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), entrusting the latter with the development, maintenance and management of inter-model stations at different locations across the country. Such stations allow passengers to change transportation modes during transit without having to leave the station premises. Documents accessed by TOI reveal that the project in Nagpur will be executed in two phases. While the first phase will involve the redevelopment of Ajni railway station, bus port and other connecting facilities, phase two will involve commercial projects. The total project area, which is around 446 acres, is home to different variety of trees which are easily over 80-100 years old. Documents obtained by senior citizen Ashish Kumar Ghosh show that a private consultancy carried out a survey for NHAI and found that 1,222 trees will have to be chopped off for construction of the station. Apart from this, over 700 trees will be felled for a school, housing, health care centre, railway offices and other buildings. In a proposal submitted to the garden department of Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), NHAI in its two applications has sought permission to cut nearly 2,000 trees. Experts however feel that the real damage will be much more. NHAI officials were not available for a comment. City’s noted environment activists, who played a key role in saving the urban jungle ‘Bharat Van’, say that many small and medium-sized trees have not been taken into consideration. “The actual number of trees that will be destroyed for the project will cross 7,000,” says activist Shrikant Deshpande. At stake is a green pocket which is much bigger than Bharat Van in Bharat Nagar, adds honorary wildlife warden of Nagpur Jaydeep Das. He also cites the study done by the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Regional Remote Sensing Centre (RRSC), which revealed that from 116 square kilometres in 1999, the city’s green cover went down to 76 square kilometres by 2018. “East Nagpur is already suffocating due to diminishing trees. Destroying this last green lung will lead to irreversible damage,” says Das.
The activists have been urging the authorities to consider alternate sites for the project which will involve less environmental damage. RTI documents also reveal that no information is available regarding an environment impact assessment for the project.
“In case of such a huge project, the entire scope of work and proposed environmental damage should have been evaluated much before start of execution of the project. For such projects, normally site with minimal environment impact is selected. Authorities also need to come clear on environmental clearance and compensatory plantation road map,” says Kaustav Chatterjee, founder of NGO Green Vigil.
According to Hema Deshpande, sub-regional officer at the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), consent to establish and operate is mandatory for such projects. The board has not received any such consent for the Ajni project.
Probably from next week, NMC’s garden department officials will start surveying the proposed sites. “The area is so huge that it will take us a month to survey and count the number of trees that will be felled,” says garden superintendent Amol Chorpagar. Just like Bharat Van, this project also involves top politicians at the planning level. And just like Bharat Van, activists feel that the city needs to come together once again to save one of the last few green abode left.
Highlighting that the rules seem to be different for different cases, a Green activist said, "It has been proved that a crime has been committed, the perpetrators are known, yet the civic body Hesitating to take strong action. It clearly shows that since top politicians are involved in the project, everyone is under pressure."