CHENNAI: A group of local residents, abutting the sacred Mount Arunachala Hill in Tiruvanamalai, thronged National Green Tribunal (NGT) here to vent their ire against the alleged felling of trees to widen Girivalam pathway, despite an interim stay by NGT bench.
Mostly farmers and natives, who for generations have preserved and protected the scared grooves and forest vegetation of the hill, claimed that contractors are continuing to execute the road widening project by cutting trees indiscriminately, though the district administration on record maintains to have stopped all the work pending further orders from the tribunal.
Unfortunately, the group had to return empty with the judicial member taking a day’s off owing to health reasons. However, a big scene was created on the NGT premises when they were drawn into a verbal dual with a few advocates, who reportedly are backing the project execution.
Renowned photographer Dev Gogoi, who expressed solidarity with the agitators, told Express that he had taken a tour of the entire project area. Ironically, the Tiruvanamalai district collector, had at the last hearing submitted that only 125 non-valuable trees would be cut. But as on date 213 trees have been marked with black and red colours to be felled.
“They are trying to confuse the public and environmentalists. Contractors are deliberately digging deep pits around the trees exposing the roots, which automatically kills the tree in a matter of few days. Then there is no need to cut the trees. There is already a pathway which the pilgrims are happy to use and there is no demand from the devotees for a new or widening of the pathway,” he alleged.
L Alagappan, local farmer, said the entire process of identifying the trees to be felled is flawed. Several rare tree species in the area that look young but take years to grow that size are being seen as shrubs and cleared. Earlier, 847 trees were identified by the highways department, out of which 347 trees were required to be cut. But, later the number was reduced to 218. Finally, it was decided to cut only 125 non-valuable trees for which the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) had granted permission. However, in reality, more trees are being felled than the official number.
Petitioner S Krishna Kumar said there was no need for road widening, if the crowd is regulated properly. The same sentiment was expressed by NGT’s judicial member Justice P Jyothimani during the last hearing. Important tree species like Mahua, Forest lemon, 400-year-old Banyan trees are under threat. Kumar says considering the rich history behind the Mount Arunachala, it should be declared as National Heritage Site.