Amid outrage over the felling of heritage pine trees - believed to be more than 100 years old - in Meghalaya's Shillong, an assurance has now come from Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who said he is trying to "look for a better solution". With over Rs 1,200 crore sanctioned for four-laning of the Dawki-Shillong highway, the pine trees are being cut for the development project.
While the state government has said some iconic pine trees will have to be cut for expanding the national highway, it has also requested the central agency - the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) - to stop the felling of trees and look for a "better solution"
Locals on social media had alleged that the government agencies took advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to chop the pine trees as photos and videos - showing the trees being cut - went viral.
"We are aware of the social media outrage. It's a major road project and over 16 hectares of forest land is getting affected and felling of trees is actually unavoidable. However, we will ensure that only those are fallen, which are blocking the expansion," said James Sangma, Meghalaya's Environment Minister.
"To safeguard the heritage trees, the NHICCL has reduced the right of way from standard 45-60 meters for four-lane highways to the bare minimum of 24 meters. To compensate the loss, compensatory afforestation would be undertaken in a land designated by the agency. For every single tree cut, 10 trees shall have to be planted," he added.
Viral visuals showed logs of woods lying besides the road from the town's Rilbong Bridge to Upper Shillong. The stretch of the road is part of the 71-km Shillong-Dawki four-lane project estimated to cost 1,251 crore.
Dawki is a trade point on the border with Bangladesh.
Sources in the state's forest department have indicated that it received orders to cut down 4,447 trees for the road widening project after it was cleared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.