More trees are felled in Dehradun to make escape to the hills faster

Governments, courts and contractors seem to believe that felling trees, faster travel and ‘national security’ facilitate tourism. But if trees are felled, why go to the hills?

More trees are felled in Dehradun to make escape to the hills faster

Ranjona Banerji

In June this year the Uttarakhand High Court allowed the widening of Sahastradhara Road in Dehradun despite months of protests by people. The purpose? To allow tourists a faster route to the hill station of Mussourie.

The immediate impact has been the felling of 2,000 trees in the Jogiwala area of Sahastradhara. Dehradun’s green cover thus has lost one more battle with the need for ‘money’ and “development”.

The loss of 2,000 trees at Sahastradhara – a mix of Eucalyptus, banyan and mango among others – is one more in a list of catastrophes for the Doon Valley in 2022. The courts, the state and central governments have allowed the destruction of over 2,500 Sal trees in Asarori area of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve besides the bigger calamity of felling thousands of trees in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve.

Both these decisions have ostensibly been taken to cut travel times between Delhi and Dehradun and help with defence preparedness.

People might ask how Uttarakhand, which boasts such world class institutes like the Forest Research Institute, the Wildlife Institute of India and the Wadia Institute of Geology, can allow such wanton destruction of its environment.

Another, perhaps more pertinent question, might be to ask what has happened to the state which gave the world the Chipko Movement?

These are the arguments provided to counter environmental concerns:

• The planet is not really at a tipping point

• Faster travel time cuts fuel wastage

• Trees can be replaced

And when in doubt, national security.

The problem of course is the massive gap between intent and reality and in the nuance that is the environment of our planet.

Why fight to save eucalyptus trees is one frequently asked question. This ignores the fact that an ecosystem is formed with old trees and their areas. A concrete road and a few saplings cannot replace that system for decades. And each act of destruction brings one closer to the brink. This goes for trees like eucalyptus.

The destruction of Shorea Robusta forests – already shrinking in India for unknown reasons – is a crime against the planet. These forests are important not just because of carbon sequestration, or clean air, or water gathering, or wildlife protection or because they hold the hills together but for all of these reasons.

To regrow a forest takes decades. Planting a few saplings will not cover that, court-mandated or otherwise. Transplanting trees is an even more difficult exercise and not always successful. Who will oversee the nurturing of new plantings? Those who have agreed to destroying them?

Should we now pretend that we do not know how Indian officialdom, politics and their nexus with contractors actually works? Already Uttarakhand’s Himalayas are paying the price for the massive ecological destruction caused by the Char Dham Yatra road and for various hydro-electric projects.

Experts from our respected institutions are ignored if they object to the government plans. And ignored if they acquiesce. Threats of fund cuts silence whoever’s in between.

NGOs have been fighting battles together and alone. But every time the idea of “national security” raises its head, the courts submit to the government.

The tourism angle which is the main purpose is given a convenient backseat.

But why do tourists come to this part of the world? Is it to drive down concrete roads and look at cosmetic bottle palms as they check into their airconditioned hotel rooms?

They can do that in most parts of India quite easily.

Why do they come to the hills?

That’s the question the government, the institutes and the courts don’t really want to answer.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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