GUWAHATI: There is public outrage in picturesque Shillong after hundreds of pine trees -- scores of them over a century-old -- were lopped off for a mega road project.
After photos and videos of the trees being brought down went viral on social media triggering protests, the state government stopped felling the remaining trees.
The vintage trees, considered Shillong's heritage, stood by a road from Rilbong to Upper Shillong and they added to the beauty of the hill station, a popular tourists' destination. The road will be widened as a part of Shillong-Dawki mega four-lane project.
The forest department said it had received orders to cut down 4,447 trees in the locality. Earlier, the Ministry of Forest and Environment had cleared the 71-km-long and Rs 1251-crore project.
The department said it had stopped lopping off the trees following the intervention of Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma who asked the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, which is implementing the project, to stop bringing down the trees.
The state’s Forest Minister James Sangma said the trees were felled on one side of the existing avenue plantation as it was "totally unavoidable" for the major road project.
The forest department said as compensatory afforestation it would plant ten trees for each tree felled. However, the locals were not amused.
"The trees were there when my grandparents were young. They were there when my parents and we grew up. Now, these friends of generations of people have been brought down, hurting the sentiments of city residents," said Irene Kharkongor, a local.
Activist Agnes Kharshiing said it was very disturbing to see hundreds of trees being felled.
"We would like to know if the government had followed Indian Forest Act, Bio Diversity Act and Meghalaya Forest Regulation Act. Who gave the land for the project and who is funding for destruction of the trees?" Agnes, who is the president of Civil Society Women Organisation, asked.