Bullet train project to leave no stone unturned to save trees on route

Mamuni Das | | Updated on: Nov 02, 2018

A tough but doable task, say experts, but also raise questions on plants’ survival in new locations

Before flagging off Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, the country wants to prominently display this disclaimer — ‘‘No tree has been cut in the making of this bullet train.’’

But to make this ambitious claim, the country may have to uproot and replant 60,000 trees. This is the number of trees cited by the latest Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as being in on the track of the bullet train project.

But the exact number of trees marked for replanting is not yet clear.

Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Corporation (MAHSRCL), the agency implementing the project, is in the process of hiring equipment to shift trees, root and branch, and replant them.

 

During his recent visit to Tokyo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japenese counterpart Shinzo Abe exchanged notes regarding the provision of up to ₹9,800 crore for the construction of the high speed railway (HSR).

Monitoring committee

MAHSRCL is looking for a firm to move the standing trees on the 508-km route by using tree- transplanting machines. The machinery provider will have to dig out a full standing tree, fill the earth back, replant the tree at a new location. The contractor will also have to maintain and observe the tree at the new location for two months. However, environmentalists warn that the task of transplanting trees is a delicate one, and requires long-term nurturing if their survival in a different location is to be ensured.

“Although difficult, transporting and replanting trees is feasible as machines are available to handle such work. But there should be a monitoring committee to ensure that the transplanted tree should survive for a long term. This is part of a check and balance system. Leaving the onus only on the contractor may not ensure trees’ survival,” BD Tripathi, former Chairman, Mahamana Malaviya Ganga Research Centre at the Banaras Hindu University, told BusinessLine.

A few transplantation projects have been take up in recent years. For instance, in the Eastern Peripheral Expressway road project, several 8-10-year old plants were transplanted to the National Capital Region (NCR) from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. The Delhi Metro transplanted 6,636 trees during the construction of three phases of the 300-km rail network.

But data on survival rates of the trees and the costs involved are hard to come by. The cost for transplanting a tree ranges from ₹4,000 to ₹70,000. Hiring reputed arborists, or tree surgeons, could cost over ₹20 lakh a month. Younger trees probably adapt and survive better than the older ones.

Designed routes

Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation has reportedly faced difficulties in re-planting trees. The Gujarat Forest Department, which imported a transplant machine in 2010 from the US, has reported almost 85 per cent survival rate in Gandhinagar, but outside the city it could be less that 50 per cent.

The Bullet Train route was chosen based on access roads so as to avoid affecting environmentally and socially-sensitive areas such as forests and mangroves, sanctuaries, hospitals, schools, and densely populated areas. Some stretches are “underground tunnels” — so there should be no disturbance of any flora.

The routes include viaduct passes through protected areas like the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. The Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary is another highly-sensitive ecological zone which the HSR will avoid by an underground tunnel. Also, there are seven coastal regulatory zones that the bullet train will traverse through — six in Maharashtra and one in Gujarat.

Published on November 02, 2018
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