Before flagging off Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, the country needs 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 listed by the newest 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 proper. Mumbai Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corporation (MAHSRCL), the agency implementing the project, is in the steps 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 building of the high-speed railway (HSR).
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 place. The contractor will also have to maintain and observe the tree at the new place for two months. However, environmentalists warn that the task of transplanting trees is a delicate one, and needs 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 live 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 taking up in recent years. For example, 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 building 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.
Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation has reportedly seen difficulties in re-planting trees. The Gujarat Forest Department, which imported a transplanting machine in 2010 from the US, has reported almost 85 percent survival rate in Gandhinagar, but outside the city, it could be less than 50 percent. The routes covered 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.