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Uttarakhand’s Tree Trouble: Balancing Water Needs and Environmental Preservation

Uttarakhand's Khalanga Trees Face Chopping Block Amidst Water Crisis Raksha Sutra Campaign Emerges to Protect Dehradun's Precious Trees Indian Masterminds tries to find out the truth behind the controversy
Indian Masterminds Stories

Uttarakhand, often referred to as ‘Devbhumi’ or the Land of the Gods, is celebrated for its stunning Himalayan landscapes and lush green forests. However, the state has recently faced significant challenges. Wildfires have devastated vast stretches of pristine forests, with the devastation ongoing. Amidst this crisis, news broke that the government plans to cut approximately 2,000 trees in Dehradun’s Khalanga Forest. This sparked furious reactions from the public, leading to protests.

Furthermore, videos showcasing markings on the trees slated for cutting went viral, prompting concerns. In response, tree advocates launched a campaign to safeguard the trees by tying Raksha Sutra threads around their trunks. The rationale behind cutting these trees is to establish water storage and treatment facilities to cater to the city’s large population.

However, given the vital role trees play in ensuring water sources, questions have arisen about the necessity of such drastic measures. People are questioning whether the Uttarakhand government has explored alternative options for supplying drinking water. They also inquire about the fate of previously implemented drinking water schemes worth crores of rupees and why thousands of trees must now be sacrificed.

Indian Masterminds delves into this matter to find answers. We spoke in detail with Dr. Dhananjai Mohan, PCCF (HoFF) and a 1988 batch IFS officer, as well as Amit Kanwar, DFO Dehradun and a 2014 batch IFS officer.

Khalanga Forest, Dehradun

THE KHALANGA FOREST

The Khalanga Forest, located in the heart of Dehradun, is a reserved forest home to several species of trees, some of which are centuries old. This forest serves as a crucial green lung for the city, providing essential ecological benefits and a serene natural environment. But the ‘Uttarakhand Pey Jal Nigam’, the agency responsible for water supply and sewage schemes in the state, has proposed a plan to set up a water treatment plant at this place to provide drinking water to Dehradun city.

They need to build a reservoir to meet the city’s water needs. The proposed reservoir is intended to alleviate water scarcity in areas facing shortages. The project also involves the construction of a 130.60-meter-high dam. The reservoir will source water from the Song Dam, situated on the Song River in Dehradun district. That’s why these trees have to be cut.

The construction of the Song Dam is anticipated to secure a supply of 150 million liters per day (MLD) of drinking water for approximately 60 wards by the year 2055.

However the forest department denied this whole plan and termed it a proposal only, not a final decision. Mr Mohan said, “This is indeed a burning issue. Officially, no information has been provided to us yet. The department has not yet been involved, and the project is still in a very preliminary stage, as per the concerned department. Ideally, such projects should be undertaken without cutting down trees. There has been no marking conducted with a joint forest team.”

THE PROPOSAL

The agency has proposed an alignment and has requested tree counting along this proposed alignment from the forest department. “However, the department has not yet undertaken the tree counting. The project details, including the final alignment and requirements from the agency, have not been communicated to us. Therefore, it is premature to comment on the project as it is still in its early stages,” Amit said.

When Indian Masterminds asked about the tree markings in viral videos, they responded that although they had seen the markings, they were not done by the forest department. It is possible that the agency conducted the markings for estimation purposes regarding the number of trees that will be affected.

Amit explained that, however, there is still uncertainty about this, and investigations are ongoing. Nothing has been finalized yet.

THE ASSESMENT

Certainly, there could be alternative locations for setting up a water plant where the environmental impact is less severe. Amit acknowledges this possibility but emphasizes that the current proposal is only a suggestion from the agency and not the final alignment. No actual work has commenced on it.

Regarding the further process, once the department finalizes the alignment, a proposal will be formulated. Subsequently, the forest department will assess the project’s merits and drawbacks, considering its suitability for the proposed location.

He further said, “This evaluation will determine whether the project is feasible or not. Following this assessment, the proposal will be submitted to the Government of India. However, as of now, no concrete steps have been taken in this direction.”

CAN DENY?

He emphasized that there’s no final decision at this stage. It’s premature to make judgments solely based on the proposal. If the department perceives that the environment is adversely affected and a significant number of trees will be cut, they will urge the agency to explore alternative sites.

Amit said, “Currently, the project is on hold, and the department has refrained from conducting any tree counting. The origin of the numbers and the ensuing confusion remain unclear. No tree counting has been undertaken thus far. Should any discrepancies arise, the project will be relocated to a more suitable site.” The area’s ecological sensitivity is paramount, and if there’s any ecological impact, the department will advocate for relocation.

THE ALTERNATIVE

The agency will be required to provide an alternative proposal. For this project, two alignments will be necessary, and the department will only approve the best one to proceed further. Additionally, Amit mentioned that while some trees may need to be cut for developmental projects, there is a provision for compensatory afforestation, typically ten times the number of trees affected, which must be undertaken.

As for why this particular location was chosen for the plant, the department currently lacks a definitive answer.

WHY THIS PLACE

Amit clarified that there’s no official position established on this matter as of now. However, according to some agency representatives, the decision to choose this location could be related to the requirement for easily accessible land to facilitate water supply to Dehradun, potentially improving distribution efficiency.

Additionally, a few representatives have suggested that the selection of this site might be influenced by the need for elevated land to optimize water supply to Dehradun. They speculate that the elevated terrain could enhance the effectiveness of water distribution. This elevation aspect could have played a role in the decision-making process regarding the site selection for the project, providing a possible explanation for why this specific location was chosen.

It’s worth noting that this project was initially proposed two years ago, with a joint survey for alignment conducted in 2022. Since then, the agency may have been exploring alternative alignment options.


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