Shillong: Citizens of Meghalaya capital lashed out after witnessing disturbing visuals of pine trees, some more than 100 years old, being cut down in the name of road expansion.
Videos of the incident, which took place at the iconic stretch in Upper Shillong, went viral on social media and led to a massive outcry from Shillong residents.
When EastMojo visited the spot in question, some locals had gathered there. “As a local, it was heartbreaking to see this iconic place being destroyed in front of us. This came as a shock to us, we didn’t think this iconic place would get destroyed like this. Many of my friends from different parts of India who have visited Shillong always talk about this path and the beauty of this place and how it is a pleasant experience,” said a citizen of Shillong.
“We want development, but not in a way that spoils the iconic stretch. At least save some places for people to see. These trees are more than 100 years old, and you take just one day to cut them down. As concerned citizens, we couldn’t just watch and let it happen. We wanted to do our bit to somehow safeguard the trees,” the citizen, who wished to remain anonymous, added.
Angela Rangad, a well-known activist from the region, said that this is not the first instance that old trees have been cut down. “We saw the road expansion on the Guwahati Shillong road also led to a lot of instability. We have never experienced such landslides. The question now is why are we doing this kind of massive road expansion? Whatever said and done, we are a hill state,” Rangad said, citing how the building of dams in Uttarakhand also led to several flash floods.
Joel Kyndiah, the Shillong lead initiator for Fridays For Future, said the cutting down of trees along the Eastern Air Command stretch of land is disheartening. “Due diligence should have been taken to explore alternatives and communicate it with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Besides, these trees should be treated as heritage property owing to their age and must be protected; they should also be protected under the public trust doctrine,” said Kyndiah.
Senior journalist and editor of The Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim, said, “Very few tried to find out the purpose for cutting down these stately English pines. The reason is the Shillong-Dawki highway. The project was mooted sometime in 2015 when Kiren Rijiju was Min of State for Home Affairs. He visited Dawki in Aug 2017 to lay the Foundation stone for the LCS, which includes the Shillong-Dawki road project. The Home Min of Meghalaya then was HDR Lyngdoh of the Congress-led MUA Govt, and he was present at Dawki on the day of the event. The MUA pursued this project vigorously because the coal and limestone mine owners and dealers were facing problems with the slow process of clearance at the land customs station (LCS) at Tamabil, which can hardly cope with the quantum of goods passing through that LCS on a daily basis.”
Minister and local MLA of Mylliem Constituency Hamlet Dohling also inspected the site accompanied by the BDO, Mylliem Block. He instructed the concerned people to stop the cutting of trees immediately.
Apart from Dohling, who refused to make any statement, the minister for forests & environment and the chief secretary also refused to speak to the media concerning this issue.
According to sources, the ministers denied a comment because a PIL has been filed in the High Court, forcing the Chief Minister to swing into action and ask the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) to stop immediately.
According to a top official in the Meghalaya government, all mandatory clearances from the forest and environment ministry were taken for cutting the trees (not on the main boulevard). The official said that ten times the number of trees are being planted as compensatory afforestation. “As development officials, our responsibility is to maintain the required balance after due diligence,” said the official.