A park and a mango tree, commemorating the legacy of hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett in this part of Uttarakhand, are facing an existential threat due to the ₹12,000 crore all-weather Char Dham highway project.
On the national highway, leading to Kedarnath and Badrinath, the tall mango tree stands majestically at the exact spot where Corbett is believed to have killed a man-eater leopard on May 2, 1926.
"The leopard of Rudraprayag" had killed 125 people over eight years, according to official records. The sylvan surroundings of Gulabrai, where the big cat claimed most of its victims, still reverberate with scary stories.
But a small park, with a bust of Corbett, built to commemorate the killing of the man-eater, lies in shambles. The bust's shattered platform, and the empty bottles and waste that litter the park remain a mute testimony of state apathy.
Both the park and the tree are under threat as they fall in the way of the ₹12,000 crore Char Dham highway project. "If the highway project is built, this park and tree will be removed," confirmed Brijesh Kumar Tiwari, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Rudraprayag.
However, the decision is facing opposition from conservationists and locals. "We have taken up the issue with the district authorities pleading that the tree should not be removed," said Prakash Dewali, a native of Gulabrai.
"Both the tree and the park should be preserved. These things are part of our heritage," said environmentalist Anil Prakash Joshi.
The Rudraprayag District Forest authorities claim they don't have enough funds to renovate the park. But District Magistrate Mangesh Ghildiyal said efforts would be made to preserve both the park and the tree.
"We will consult engineers to see whether the two can be saved," said Ghildiyal.