From the Viewsroom

A Chipko movement redux

Mohini Chandola | Updated on October 27, 2020

Felling 10,000 trees to expand the Dehradun airport spells disaster

The Uttarakhand government’s proposal to axe 10,000 trees in the Thano forest range to expand the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun has triggered protests, with hundreds of locals from Rishikesh, Haridwar and Bhaniyawala hugging the trees and pledging to save the forest. This is a sombre re-enactment of the 1973 Chipko movement, when thousands of women clung to trees to prevent the authorities from felling the forest in Mandal district of Chamoli.

Uttarakhand’s move to upgrade Jolly Grant to an international airport would require the approval of the National Wildlife Board for the transfer of the forest area to the Airports Authority of India, as Thano is a part of the Rajaji National Park, and the proposed expansion of the runway would breach the 10-km radius of the eco-friendly zone of the park. Without the forest, Dehradun will lose its ‘tourist destination’ tag. The Prime Minister, who is president, Wildlife Board, has been vocal about conserving India’s green cover.

If the airport project is cleared, the razing of the forest will sound the death knell for hundreds of species of fauna in Thano and the elephant corridor nearby. The State also falls in seismic Zone IV and V, as per the Earthquake Zoning Map, and uprooting Thano will lead to soil erosion, a factor that exacerbated the 2013 Kedarnath floods, endangering countless lives.

The local population is vehemently opposed to the move. The ₹353-crore project is an expensive, unnecessary plan, given that the IGI International Airport is less than 5 hours from Dehradun. These funds can be used to revamp the Jolly Grant airport and help connect Dehradun with the major metros. The airport does not have any direct flights to cities such as Chennai, Kochi, Guwahati, Pune and Coimbatore. Increasing domestic flights is a less destructive way to attract tourists. There is also a need to rejig the Wildlife Board to allow more environmentalists and activists to decide on the ambitious infrastructure plans.

Mohini Chandola, Sub Editor

Published on October 27, 2020

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