Green Activists Protest Tree Cutting For Pune River Front DevelopmentApr 30, 2023 | Pratirodh Bureau
Hundreds of activists have staged the ‘Chalo Chipko’ (let’s hug trees) agitation in the Mutha riverbed in Maharashtra’s Pune city to protest the felling of trees for the ambitious Pune River Front Development project. During the agitation held on Saturday, the protesters carried placards, shouted slogans to save the river, trees, and the city, and hugged the trees along the riverbank while forming a human chain.
The project envisages the development of a 44-kilometer stretch of the river bank comprising 22.2 km of the Mula River, 10.4 km of the Mutha river, and 11.8 km of the Mula-Mutha River. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the project in March 2022.
The activists accused the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) of destroying natural greenery along the riverbank near Bund Garden in the name of its River Rejuvenation Project. A few thousand trees including some rare and old trees are being cut down for a one-km stretch of the riverfront, they alleged.
The PMC, however, refuted the claims and said there are no old and rare trees among the trees that would be affected. “During the work of river rejuvenation, it is necessary to cut some trees, and in their place, more than 65,000 trees will be planted,” it said in a press release.
Activist Sarang Yadwadkar claimed flood levels of the Mula and Mutha rivers would rise by five feet due to the project as the width of the water course is being reduced. “Environmental clearance was given on the condition that not a single tree will be cut, but without any permission, the PMC has already started felling trees inside the river bed,” he alleged.
Mangesh Dighe, environmental officer at the PMC, said the objective of the project is to protect the river bank on both sides from flood and trees will be planted to create a green belt in the heart of the city.
“The main aim is to make the area pollution free as the sewage water will be diverted into the sewage treatment plant,” he said. “About 10,000 trees are affected but more than 3,000 trees will be preserved. More than 4,000 trees will be transplanted and only 3,000 trees will have to be removed. The trees which we are going to plant are complementary to the ecosystem of the river,” he said.
This is not the first time that such an action has been sanctioned by the government. In the name of development, the government at both the Central and state levels has set aside objections by common citizens, environmental activists and experts sounding alarm and raising objections about carrying out ‘vikas’ (development) after abnegating all worries, concerns and objections of the concerned lay people and experts alike. The question that begs asking is what type of example is being set here. What message is the government sending to the people about its callousness towards the environment, over-riding concerns by citizens?
Is it saying that ‘vikas’ is so important that it carelessly ignores objections raised by environmentalists? Is ‘transplantation’ of saplings in lieu of chopped down vegetation (which will take decades to become full-fledged trees) going to compensate for the loss incurred today? Or is the government really giving out the message that citizens may keep on agitating but it will follow its own script, written by a few people in power, who are concerned only about short-term gains and results and long-term personal aggrandisement?