Saturday, Jun 06, 2020 12:30 [IST]
Last Update: Saturday, Jun 06, 2020 07:15 [IST]
GANGTOK: While Sikkim joined the rest of the world in observing World Environment Day with plantation of saplings and other activities, netizens in Sikkim woke up to images of felling of several trees in the Millennium Park area, near Sadar Police Station, in the heart of the State Capital.
The concerns were from residents of the area along with many Gangtokians highlighting how the stretch of forest cover was home to many pine and rhododendron trees, a blanket of flower cover in spring season and also famous as a meeting spot in the capital.
Amid arguments and counter-arguments over the deforestation of the few remaining green covers of the capital, State authorities maintained that the area was being cleared to make way for extension of the existing National Highway 10 and to avoid traffic congestions.
The road widening under the Centre government’s Smart Cities project is being executed under Improvement of Roads and Junctions in Gangtok, approved in March 2019.
Asked on the issue, Gangtok Smart City Chief Executive Officer Tarzan Subba said the trees were being felled for the improvement of roads and junctions in Gangtok. “We have envisaged a project that will ease the pressing problem of traffic jams in Gangtok. Our engineers conducted a survey and they found that our National Highway 10 along the Gangtok stretch is very narrow with sharp curves with no room for two lane roads or passing of vehicles at these crucial junctures. It has a cascading effect creating jams and the only solution is widening of roads from Zero Point to Ranipool,” he said.
Gangtok Smart City includes 17 municipal wards in Gangtok and the Smart City project has identified 17 such crucial junctures where road extensions will be carried out. The plan however doesn’t not include demolition of existing structures but widening in available open stretches along the National Highway 10.
“Of the 17 such crucial junctions along NH 10, Development Area junction above Manan Kendra stretching till the High Court of Sikkim premises falls as one of junctions. Another one will be above State Bank of Sikkim and Hospital Dara area, even in the narrow stretch of Deorali below Chorten Gumpa which has forest cover with more to follow till Ranipool and also the tri-junction near By-Pass Road near East District Administrative Centre,” shared the Gangtok Smart City CEO.
The project was placed and discussed in 2018, approved and put to tender and awarded before the enforcement of the model code of conduct in March 2019. With the formation of the new SKM government and subsequent appointment of a new CEO in June last year, the project is being implemented.
Subba explained that Gangtok has been asked to design a smart city out of a city that already exists, not on a flat land given by the State government. “There were many issues as such, there were tenders only but no work. There was permission needed from PHE, Sewerage, National Highway, Urban Development as well as Forest Department. So duly following the entire course, we wrote to the Forest department with the proposal for widening of roads, with the need for felling of trees. Forest department following all norms, inspected the sites, presented the estimates, we transferred the compensation to the Forest department and with their permission, these trees have been fallen, it is the duty of the Forest department how it is carried out. We followed the concurrence of the Forest department,” stated Subba.
Divisional Forest Officer (Territorial) Smita Shilal highlighted how the road extension is 5 metres from the centre of the road and in due process some 400 trees will be cut from Zero Point to Millennium Park. “Being the custodian of the road reserve, we had previously diverted 100 feet which has now been diverted to Smart City Project. We are unsure about the total permit but it includes road extension along with other projects in the area.”
The Forest department has identified at least 400 such trees including pine to many other species, from Zero Point to Hospital Dara, that will be cut including small trees. The area being a park, all plants were shifted to nurseries.
“Whatever biodiversity being lost there will be compensated and multiplied by ten times. We could either do it there but that is not a possibility now, so we will do plantation elsewhere. There will be a management plan that will be approved by the department and compensation will be carried out,” the DFO added.