Shillong, June 23: Forest and Environment Minister James K Sangma has clarified on the felling of trees in Upper Shillong as well as environmental clearances to Star Cement.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Sangma said eight trees were felled for the widening of the Shillong-Dawki road because it was “absolutely necessary”.
The Public Works Department had proposed realignment and widening of the Shillong-Dawki national highway through the Upper Shillong protected forest.
The total affected forest area for diversion under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, was 16.107 ha, including 15.296 ha within the protected forest and 0.811 Ha deemed forest land outside the protected forest.
Sangma said felling of trees is unavoidable for the major road project. However, “care has been taken to ensure that only those standing trees which are considered absolutely necessary are permitted to be felled”.
“The aged Cryptomeria japonica heritage trees along the road from Upper Shillong to Baniun adjacent to the EAC headquarters have been shielded,” Sangma said, adding that the felling of the eight trees was necessary because of the curve of the road and narrow space.
NHIDCL has reduced the Right of Way (RoW) from standard 45-60 m for four-laning to 24 m with the utility provisions like water pipe lines and electricity. To reduce RoW, the standard median of 2.5 m has been reduced to 0.6 m, the minister informed.
The government will undertake compensatory afforestation in an equivalent non-forest area provided by NHIDCL at Nongumiang West Khasi Hills in accordance with the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
Sangma said for every tree felled outside the forest land, 10 trees will be planted to ensure that the environment is protected.
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had said there should be a balance between development and environment.
To a query, the minister said in-principal approval for diversion of 16.107 ha was granted by the regional office of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on March 6 this year along with conditions for compliance to be fulfilled by the user agency, which is NHIDCL.
The ministry’s final approval was notified in a letter issued on April 30 this year. Sangma said due procedure was followed in felling the trees for the project.
Clearance to Star Cement
On the environment clearances to Star Cement, another issue that created furore in the state, Sangma said it is the prerogative of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to give green signal.
Star Cement has been allowed to expand its limestone mining project at Brishyrnot in East Jaintia Hills.
Sangma said any kind of project requires environmental clearance if it is in close proximity to any reserve forest. “Therefore, the permission or the environmental clearance is not in the purview of the state government, it is the prerogative of the Government of India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to grant necessary clearance,” he added.
Public hearing, besides environmental and social impact assessment, is necessary.
“From what I know of the situation… the officials tried to have public hearing not once but thrice. However, there was a lot of disruption and agitation which did not make it possible for the public hearing to take place,” Sangma said.
“Now, from what my knowledge goes if an attempt is made to have a public hearing so that environmental and social impact assessment can be arrived at, if that public hearing is not possible for three times, then the onus of granting environmental clearance lies on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,” he added.
To a question, he said the government understands the responsibility to preserve the ecology.