Death of a Neem tree

An open letter to the Prime Minister

Published: Wednesday 30 April 2003

Death of a Neem tree

Magnificent Highway Neem Tree< The National Highway Development Project is the government's pet. One such stretch being developed is National Highway 8 linking Jaipur to Ajmer and on to Mumbai and beyond. The highway was being widened near the town of Bagru. The bulldozers were out. The process was laboured. The trees were massive. They needed labour to be killed, then chopped into pieces and carried away. To remove their last remnants, the roots were dug out of the ground. It was then cleared and paved, ready to be laid. This work is also called progress.

The trees -- or should we say stumps -- were massive. They were clearly aged. They also must have been beautiful. We asked the labourers carting away the logs if they knew which species these were. "Neem" came the quick reply. "How old do you think this tree would have been?" we asked. "At least 80-100 years," one pointed out, and continued: "just look at the girth of the stump". But had they seen the tree? Did they know this tree? This time our driver replied, "These were big trees. Huge. Their arms stretched across the road. Only this road had such old and beautiful neem trees."

Not anymore.

If we forgot to tell you before, this incidentally, is Rajasthan. A state located at the western edge of India. This state is better known for being dry and hot. This state has had a drought for the past 5 years. Last year it barely rained. The situation is desperate. There is no water, no fodder and certainly little food. Roads make for good business in droughts. Roads bring employment. Roads bring contractors. Roads bring business to cement and other industries. Roads bring prosperity. So what if a few trees are cut? So what?

PS: In November 2001 the ministry of environment and forests amended the requirements for environmental impact assessments to exclude road projects that relate to "improvement work". This term includes widening and strengthening of roads. No permissions are needed to cut these trees. All legal.

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