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More than 9 lakh trees have been chopped in the past 5 years in Punjab for several road widening projects, including1.44 lakh trees in the past 6 months. The state government, however, has no plans to translocate the mature trees, citng it a costly and time consuming process. Moreover, they have no “land” available with them to relocate these mature trees. “Translocation of trees is not a feasible project. As of now, most trees which have been cut for road widening projects are eucalyptus.
These trees cannot be relocated. And for the other varieties, we need space to shift the similar sized tree. The cost of equipment also matters and relocation of trees is a time consuming project. However, we do take the cost of planting new saplings plus 5 years maintenance from PWD department. This way, we are planting new saplings in place of axed trees,” said Kuldeep Kumar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Punjab.
“This process can be carried out for some rare species or for small projects, but not possible for mass relocation as it is a very costly procedure,” he added. Meanwhile, the state forest department is still in the process of planting 2 crore saplings, buying more land to grow a forest to make up the loss. The varieties of axed trees included sheesham, neem, arjuna, brahma drek, melia, keekar and euclyptus.
However, translocation of trees in Bathinda and Patiala had shown satisfactory results in the past. In 2014, a private animal nutrition making factory in co-ordination with the district forest department had translocated 74 indigenous varieties of trees. Mature trees such as sheesham, kikar, tahli etc were translocated on the roadside and along the boundary wall of the unit. After three years, nearly 40 of these trees are still doing well and the ones which have died are those which were relocated far from the unit.
Although a sophisticated tree transplanter is needed to shift trees, in this particular case, a hydro power machine along with JCB machine were at the time of translocation. “I had sent a project report to the head office saying that tree translocater can solve the problem of mass tree chopping on roadsides. It needs to be mentioned that one tree relocationg machine costs nearly Rs 2 crore,” said Sanjeev Tewari, District Forest Officer (DFO) in Pathankot.
“If this cost is included in the project of companies constructing roads, things can be much easier. At least the indigenous varieties can be relocated, if not all,” said Harbhajan Singh, DFO Bathinda.
It was a cost-intensive project in Bathinda as Rs 6,000 was the cost of shifting one tree. But if it is done in bulk and with sophisticated machines, the cost can be reduced, observed Ashwini Joshi, running an NGO, Green International, who had also filed a PIL in HC seeking relocation of trees . “Twenty years back, around 30 mango, jamun and eucalyptus trees had been shifted from the commercial market in Patiala to an urban estate run by a private builder.
Nearly 90 per cent of those trees are still living. If this technique could have been adopted 20 years ago, why can’t the department do it now?” asked another petitioner, Sangrur-based doctor Dr Amandeep Agggarwal.
“We are in the process of buying more land to develop a forest,” said Punjab Forest Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot. Ruling out relocation of mature trees, Dharamsot said, “Normally, NGT gives us 10-15 days to axe trees from a particular road. Hence, it is not possible to relocate thousands of trees in such a short time period.”