Monday, July 2, 2012

Red signal for green crusade

In a reply submitted to the Punjab and Haryana high court on Sunday, not long after chief minister Parkash Singh had inaugurated the "Greener Punjab" campaign at Fazilka, the department stated that the threatened Badha lake area of Fazilka was not in its purview, but area along the Alam Shah minor was protected forest indeed.
"If protected forest area is required for the colony, PUDA (Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority) will need due approval of the forest department," the affidavit stated, making no comment on the biodiversity of the Fazilka region or that more than 400 exotic tress were on the verge of being cut in the Badha wetland area.
Social activist Navdeep Asija of Fazilka had filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana high court, opposing a residential colony that PUDA had proposed on the wetland site. Even the high court had ordered status quo on the sub judice matter, PUDA, in February, auctioned 56 residential plots on the land.

The state government had acquired the wetland area under "optimum use of vacant government land" policy. The Badha wetland is in an eco-sensitive zone. The Punjab state science and technology council had accepted a report that recommended every possible action to save wetlands. PUDA had no permission from the forest and wildlife department or the state pollution control board for the project at Badha.

In 1844, British East India Company officer Patrick Vans Agnew had chosen the banks of the Badha wetland to found the city of Fazilka. He was so inspired by the flora and fauna of the lake that he made his first bungalow in India near the wetland's banks. Till the 1980s, the lake was the main source of drinking water for Fazilka town. Mankind's greed choked the natural flow of river Sutlej that used to recharge the lake with fresh water every year. Revenue record filed in the high court in a previous hearing suggested that from 1977 to 1995, panchayats of the villages nearby made revenue out of fish farming over the lake.

In 11 of the past 16 years, legislators from Fazilka and Jalalabad were forest minister, yet the region had the lowest forest cover in the state. The current affidavit only accentuates the regime's double standards. "The Rs-80-crore Greener Punjab campaign is a waste of money for political mileage," social worker Asija said on Sunday. "It's a ploy to cover up future massive cutting of more than 3 lakh trees along the canals and roads to extends the number of lanes to four and six."
If the government was out with a green campaign, it should also ensure its proper implementation, Asija added. "They are cutting grown-up trees," he said, "and planting saplings as replacement."
Asija took the matter to the CM on Sunday, and and the latter instructed the forest department officials to bring all the record on the matter to Asija. The next hearing in the high court is on July 6.

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