A day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the western Odisha town of Balangir, over 1,000 trees have been felled to pave way for a temporary helipad, according to a report published by The Hindu.
“No prior permission was sought from us for it,” Samir Kumar Satpathy, Balangir Divisional Forest Officer, was quoted as saying. “We are apprehending that trees between 1,000 and 1,200 have been lost.”
“Under the urban plantation programme, saplings were planted on 2.25 hectares controlled by the Indian Railways in 2016,” it read, adding that “as a vacant land was required for the helipad, authorities had to clear 1.25 hectares.”
According to the on-the-spot inquiry, trees were four- to seven-foot tall and the survival rate was close to 90 percent, the report added.
Since the area happens to be under the jurisdiction of the railways, an official of the East Coast Railways (ECoR) said they are also conducting an inquiry into the matter.
"We are doing our own enquiry on the subject," Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) of ECoR, JP Mishra told PTI, adding, preparation of such a helipad is the task of the public works department (PWD) of the state government.
Pradhan added: "It is the local administration which decides as to where the prime minister's helicopter will land."
The illegal felling of trees has made several green activists see red, the report stated. “Even if it was a small patch of plantation, authorities were required to take due permission before felling the trees. Once plantation programme is taken up in a land, trees cannot be cut down without prior permission. A case should be filed against the officer responsible for the act,” Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist, was quoted by the national daily.
PM Modi is slated to attend an official function where he will launch a host of projects, besides addressing a BJP rally in the western Odisha town during his visit on Tuesday.
Union Petroleum Minister and senior BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan, however, claimed that people who are "afraid" of the prime minister's visit are trying to spread a false campaign by "misusing" forest officials.