Last month, the forest department decided that the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) cut down 4,431 trees in 2019 for the expansion of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway under “inevitable circumstances,” as the trees could not be transferred due to logistical issues.
The federal environment ministry’s Regional Empowered Committee (REC) in Nagpur accepted the forest department’s internal inquiry report on November 26 and forwarded the case to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s Integrated Regional Office (IRO) for further consideration.
The REC approved the inquiry findings, which stated that “there was no wilful disobedience” of the REC’s restrictions by regional forest authorities who permitted the tree removal to take place.
It was discovered that the topographical conditions made it impossible to deploy machinery and vehicles to relocate the trees. As a result, any attempt to that effect could have been excessively unsafe for the working team managing such apparatus, “the forest department’s written report to REC stated.
On February 6, 2019, MSRDC received stage-1 approval to divert 75 hectares of forest land for the development project in Raigad and Pune districts, “subject to the fulfillment of certain criteria.”
The property is being diverted for the future Mumbai-Pune Expressway’s “missing link,” which would run from the existing highway’s Khopoli exit to Sinhgad Institutes at Lonavala, cutting travel time by roughly 20 minutes.
The REC had stated while granting in-principle, stage-1 permission, “the state government may translocate the maximum number of trees up to 60 cm in girth scheduled to be felled at the cost of the user agency.” The trees were not translocated, but cut down, according to the minutes of the REC meeting from June of this year, after the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF) of Pune issued a work order for the same in 2019.
The REC noted that this was done “without giving any second thoughts” in a meeting on June 24, this year, and opined that the problem should have been brought to its attention and that a compelling justification for removing the trees should have been provided to the central government. According to the minutes, “the committee registered its displeasure over such neglect and branded it as a direct violation of stage-I clearance.” The forest department was asked to provide a formal inquiry report into the incident within three weeks.