Sunday, June 10, 2007

Price to pay for development: Our trees

The Delhi-Hardwar highway is a fairly narrow highway in most sections, and with religious traffic, it can get very crowded nowadays. As part of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) plans, there is a contract out to improve the highway; when I say improve, it essentially means widening the highway. This is a very good thing as it will decrease the time taken for travel, will reduce traffic congestion and avoid the jams that seem to pop up on the highway frequently. In addition, with the industrialization of the belt around Haridwar, it will help industry tremendously by reducing the time taken for transit of inputs and finished items.
So I was traveling along the highway, it was fairly congested, and was just thinking of the time that would be reduced in transit the next time. Seemed like a fairly win-win situation, and it may even be good for the environment, since the travel would be more effective, less fuel wastage, less need to replace tyres, and so on. And then I saw the casualty of the entire exercise, at least for the short term. The environment.
This was the first time that I had seen the clearance of the sides of a road passing through the countryside. For those who are unable to picturise it, think of a road with trees and foilage on either side, and then there are the farm lands. The land just next to the road belongs to the government in a number of places, and there are these big trees lining the road on both sides, providing shade on the road itself. In this furnace like situation that exists right now outside, the shaded portions are actually cooler. In many cases, the trees are local fruit bearing, and provide fruits during their seasons.
Anyhow, I digress. So what I saw was that the undergrowth below the trees was on fire all along the route. Maybe somebody can better explain, but my explanation was that first they clear all the undergrowth by burning it, and maybe killing the tree, and then remove the tree. This had already started happening. I was appalled to see this technique. We crib about global warming, we crib that it is the primary responsibility of the west, and then we contribute to it by this method of mass burning.
I was left wondering as to what would happen about the trees. It seemed fairly obvious that the new road would be a barren road, with not much vegetation on either side. Even if trees are planted on either side, and I am not sure, it will take ages to get back to the same condition as they were. I can only hope that when they plant trees, they plant the leafy local varieties that thrive in these regions.
Overall, I was pained to see the price of development, knowing it was inevitable, but even then..

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:34 AM