Srinagar, Dec 10: The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) cut around 75 Chinar trees along the Srinagar-Qazigund Expressway during the execution of the project a few years ago.
The official data shows that out of the total 75 Chinars, a staggering 58 Chinar trees were axed in Pulwama district, while an additional 17 met a similar fate in Anantnag district.
The move carried out for the expansion of the Srinagar-Qazigund Highway has left environmentalists questioning the move noting that the government should have carried out a massive plantation drive on alternate locations along the expressway.
The information was sought by RTI activist M MShuja after filing an application with the NHAI.
According to the official data, the government collected a total of Rs 28.17 lakh from the tree felling with Rs 20.85 lakh attributed to Pulwama and Rs 7.33 lakh to Anantnag.
These were the funds that were subsequently deposited into the government treasury.
The official documents said that 371.242 hectares of land were acquired for the highway expansion, with compensation amounts already deposited by the NHAI.
The competent authorities for land acquisition and collector land acquisition have also confirmed that no outstanding compensation was pending.
In addition to the environmental impact, financial data obtained indicates that NHAI has collected a staggering Rs 249.45 crore as a user fee for the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway stretch from Srinagar to Qazigund.
The revenue collection has seen a steady increase over the years, with Rs 38.06 crore in 2019-20, Rs 45.21 crore in 2020-21, and Rs 53.51 crore in 2021-22.
Notably, an astounding Rs 67.33 crore has been collected in the ongoing financial year up to November 30.
The then government had stated that permission was granted to chop the Chinar trees for the smooth execution of the highway.
The experts have already voiced their concern stating that in two decades, Kashmir would be without such glorious trees if strict measures are not taken to protect these trees.
An official said that the then government had claimed that the Floriculture Department in Kashmir division was asked by the divisional administration to provide saplings of Chinar for the plantation on either side of the highway.
“But not a single sapling was planted anywhere, particularly in Pulwama as most of the Chinars were chopped there,” the official said.
The official said that the number of Chinar trees in Kashmir was declining given the continuous felling for road widening and other developmental projects.
Director of Floriculture, Kashmir, Farooq Ahmad Rather told Greater Kashmir that the mandate of the department was confined to only gardens.
“But we also provide Chinar saplings free of cost to everyone in March. If it is a highway, then R&B or any other concerned department can ask us and we will provide them Chinar saplings free of cost,” Rather said.
Former Chief Conservator of Forests, Muhammad Sultan Wadoo in his book ‘The Trees Of Our Heritage’ published in 2007 stated that there were 17,124 Chinars in Kashmir of which around 746 were chopped every year.
He had raised an alarm that Kashmir would be without Chinar trees in the next 22 years if such a process of chopping Chinar trees continued.
Around 1662 majestic trees were chopped with the execution of the four-lane Srinagar-Baramulla highway and the double-lane Baramulla-Uri highway.
At least 1509 poplar trees, 38 mulberry trees, and 36 Chinar trees have been chopped during the last few months.