BENGALURU: With more than 1,000 trees already felled in the forests between Khanapur taluk and Goa border as part of a project to widen National Highway (NH) 4A, activists are up in arms as more than 22,000 trees have been slated for felling for the road improvement project. However, forest officials reiterate that permission has been given by both the Central and state wildlife boards for the project as the road is crucial for connectivity to Goa.
On October 6, the process of marking of 1,000s of trees in the biodiversity hotspot of Western Ghats began in Khanapur taluk of Belagavi district. And, 22,622 trees were identified and painted red along the 54-km stretch between Khanapur and Goa border which passes through thick forests and an elephant corridor. On October 22, the cutting of trees began and till date, more than 1,000 trees have been felled.
Criticising it, environmentalists and activists say the project picked up pace only after the state PWD minister met Union Minister Nitin Gadkari twice. According to them, the PWD minister met Gadkari on July 17 to discuss several issues, including the widening of 84.12-km NH 4A. As a follow-up, on October 4, the PWD minister met Gadkari again. The project picked up momentum after this ... each day about 100 trees are being felled, they added.
According to the activists, 14 km of this stretch passes through thick forests and they are widening the road from the current 14 m to 26 m in spite of low-vehicular density. Petitioning the CM and Union ministers, Sahadev Shivpura of Paschim Ghatta Jagruthi Vedike said, “There is an urgent need for the government to discuss this issue with elected representatives and forest officials and stop the massacre of our precious biodiversity. We are opposing the road widening project as there are two alternative roads connecting Belagavi and Goa. What is the need to widen the road at such a huge ecological cost?”
A senior forest official said, “The project proposal was examined properly and with due consideration and cleared at all levels. The state government recommended the project, the state Board of Wildlife and later the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) too cleared it. The four-laning project was delayed for a few years as a portion of it fell inside Dandeli forests and NBWL took time to clear it.”The project was first mooted in 2005 and environment clearance for the first phase was given in 2007.