Srinagar: Despite strong opposition from the Horticulture Department, the 160 MVA, 220/33KV GIS grid station, to be constructed at Haripora Harwan, will come at a cost of 17 Kanals of horticultural land and felling of 56 walnut, chestnut and peach trees nourished by the horticulture department for years over 17 Kanals of orchard land which has now been taken over by Power Development Department (PDD).
Official communications accessed by Kashmir Observer, have revealed that Deputy Commissioner Srinagar’s office has steered clear of granting explicit permission for felling of 17 fruit-bearing walnut trees at the proposed site for construction of grid station. But, all the trees at the site, including 17 fruit-bearing walnut trees stand axed. PDD has gone ahead with axing all the trees on the orchard land including the 17 fruit-bearing walnut trees (as per the official records of Department of Horticulture). The construction of grid station is yet to start, but all the trees on the 17 Kanals of land have been felled.
According to the official records 56 trees in the orchard have been axed, 48 of them bearing fruit. The fruit-bearing trees include 17 walnut trees, 24 chestnut trees and seven peach trees. The Power Development Department (PDD) is constructing the Grid station at Haripora to connect it with the Alsteng-Ganderbal Grid Station which was commissioned on Saturday.
As per the official communications seen by the Kashmir Observer, the horticulture department has tried hard to deny the orchard land to PDD for the construction of grid station, but their efforts have not borne fruit.
Interestingly, while seeking permission from the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar’s office for felling of trees in the orchard, the PDD had pegged the total number of trees in the orchard at 58 which included five fruit-bearing walnut trees, 21 fruit-bearing chestnut trees, six fruit-bearing peach trees, 20 walnut trees without fruit, two old and dried walnut trees, three old and dried chestnut trees and one dried peach tree.
However, while granting the permission, the DC Srinagar’s office has given permission for cutting down all the trees, but has chosen not to mention the walnut trees except two dead and dried walnut trees.
The operative part of an order on 31-07-201 from the Deputy Commissioner office reads: “Whereas the Executive Engineer TLCD 2nd PDD Srinagar wide his communication bearing No. TLCD2S/TS/1622-25 Dated 30-07-2019 has informed that large number of walnut trees are coming under the alignments and has requested for felling permission of these trees enabling them to start construction, permission is hereby granted for felling of 24 chestnut trees, 07 peach trees, two old dried up walnut trees. The process of felling of trees should be completed within a week’s time positively.”
Environmentally sensitive land getting compromised for developmental projects is not new. It has been happening for years particularly during the construction of transmission lines in recent years.
Environmental degradation, being caused through construction of hydro-power projects and transmission lines is evident even in official documents. For example, construction of the recently completed Samba-Amargarh 1000MW transmission line has come against quite visible environmental costs in the form of felling of at least 40035 forest trees including Deodar and Kail besides 35322 bushes as per the official documents.
Also, thousands of trees outside forests (belonging to farmers and orchardists) have been cut in Shopian, Pulwama, Budgam and Baramulla districts according to RTI activist, Dr. Raja Muzaffar. The project worth 3000 crores, was executed by the Mumbai-based electric transmission development company, Sterlite Power.
Muzaffar argues that such government orders and permissions happen to be an eye-wash as permissions are granted on the basis of technical language. For example, in the document of the forest department, it has been mentioned that 40035 trees and poles are involved from which “approximately 9953 trees/poles/saplings are expected to be felled.” But, Muzaffar claims more than double the ‘involved’ trees have been felled.
For the construction of Srinagar (Alastang)-Leh 220Kv transmission line, orders about approval of 150 hectares of land were issued in the similar fashion. Add to this the tree felling in Sindh division as well for laying the transmission line. “Thousands of trees have been axed in Sindh forest division. I almost wept several times while seeing such devastation,” said Ghulam Ahmad, a resident of Ganderbal.