Deforestation for development leading to environmental degradationTrees are being cut down indiscriminately in large numbers in the name of physical infrastructure development or to accommodate the growing number of human settlements, stakeholders say.
Deforestation has increased exponentially in the name of development in the last few years. The construction of roads, transmission lines and other physical infrastructures cutting through forest areas has destroyed the forest cover across the country.
Mushrooming human settlements around big infrastructure projects compounded by lax monitoring on the part of the local, provincial and federal governments to control the encroachment of wide open spaces have led to massive environmental degradation, especially in the Chure and Mahabharata regions.
“Trees are being felled to make way for transmission lines. Community and national forests are being cleared for the expansion of power transmission lines. Deforestation is taking place on a massive scale in five community forests of Hattilung in Mathagadhi Rural Municipality-5,” said Dhanisara Somai of Hattilung in Mathagadhi Rural Municipality, Palpa.
The 220 KV Kaligandaki Corridor Transmission Line Project that spans across Parbat, Syangja, Palpa, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi West covers a distance of 86 km and requires clearance of at least 25 hectares of forest cover, according to the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA).
Conducting Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) is mandatory under Environment Protection Act 2076/2077 when clearing more than five hectares of forest area. The EIA is the calculation of the environmental consequences (positive and negative) of a development project done prior to the implementation of any project; whereas, the IEE describes the environmental condition of a project, its impacts and its mitigation measures.
However, in the power line transmission project in Mathagadhi, Palpa, only the preliminary environmental test, IEE, has been conducted so far.
According to Sanyog Basnet, information officer of the Division One Office, Palpa, the NEA’s Kaligandaki Corridor Transmission Line Project office has taken permission to cut down trees for the transmission line project. But trees have been cut down indiscriminately in Malouta Chowpari, Toklakdi, Matha, Bhavana and Goredada community forests under Mathagadhi Rural Municipality-5, Hattilung.
A total of 1,697 trees have been cut down in Matha forest in Mathagadhi Rural Municipality alone for the transmission line. According to the division forest office, the project has permission from the Department of Forest to cut 4,785 trees in Palpa district for the project.
According to the Division Forest Office, permission has been granted to cut down trees additionally in Kuber, Chilangdi and Kalika community forests in Tansen Municipality and Pushpaka Community Forest in Bagnaskali Rural Municipality.
The Division Forest Office and Sub-Division Office should be present to oversee the felling of trees for infrastructural projects and to regulate and mark the area where the trees have been cut down. However, none of the forest officials is present when trees are being felled for the power transmission project in Mathagadhi, say locals.
“The number of trees cut down in the forests is unknown. Only inspection and monitoring reports by the Sub-Divisional Forest Office, Mathagadhi will determine the exact number of trees felled,” said Basnet. “Without proper reports, we cannot take any action.”
In the forests, contractors have cut down trees indiscriminately and heavy machinery like bulldozers has been put to use, but the sub-division office has not taken any action against the contractors.
Gun Bahadur Saru, a resident of Mathagadhi, says the local community was taken by surprise when the contractors started felling trees in the forests.
“We came to know about the project only when we saw trees being cut down,” said Saru. “The contractors are cutting down trees using heavy machinery. If this continues, it will take a long time for the forest to recover from such massive destruction.”
Chiranjeevi Chaulagain, an environment officer of the project, says the authorities granted permission to cut down trees for the project without seeking an EIA.
“The government must have granted permission to cut down trees on the basis of the IEE,” said Chaulagain.
According to the locals, the lack of detailed environmental study has led to the drying up of water sources and an increase in episodes of floods and landslides in the lower regions.
The local residents have been lodging complaints almost every year with the Division Forest Offices against deforestation in the name of the transmission line project and road construction in different places of Rainadevi Chhahra Rural Municipality and Tinau Rural Municipality in Palpa. But the authorities have not responded to the complaints, say locals.
In Dang, more than 20 hectares of national forest have been cleared in Bhalubang Bazaar of Rapti Rural Municipality with around 1,200 households settled inside the forest area in the past few years. Several buildings have been built and buying and selling of property without legal documents have become the norm.
Jagat Pokhrel of Bhalubang, former president of Rapti Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the real estate market has taken off in the area with no consideration for the protection of the forest cover.
The Division Forest officials in Dang say they are obligated to work alongside authorities in the electricity, telecom and roads sectors in the name of development.
“Of late, the conflict between saving the environment and making headway with development for the country has been increasing,” said Chief of the Division forest Office, Dang, Mohan Shrestha. “The local units are chopping down trees to construct roads and playgrounds and dig ponds all in the name of infrastructure development. We have stopped some people from working against the Environment Act and regulations but it is happening at such a large scale that our intervention is proving futile.”
Deforestation in the name of development is a serious issue in Dang. Chief of the District Coordination Committee in Dang Jitendra Man Nepali said that the situation has not come under control even after increasing the monitoring mechanism.
In Arghakhanchi, forest cover has been cleared to reach the settlements of Sitganga Municipality, which has one of the largest forest areas in the district. Large trees have been cut down in the name of road expansion. According to the locals, the forest was cleared to take the road to the village with the connivance of the contractor company and the officials of the Forest Users Committee.
“The trend of cutting down big trees and selling timber from the road construction site is increasing. Two to three roads have been constructed here just to connect one village to the road network,” said Pharsa Bahadur Khatri, a local.
According to Khatri, the local residents have filed several complaints with the authorities regarding the haphazard and excessive deforestation in the forest areas.
Chumkala Bhat of Simalpani village says deforestation in the Chure area has led to floods, landslides, destruction of irrigation canals and inundation of paddy fields every year.
According to the Division Forest Officer Madan Dhungana, they have expressed their concerns to the local units time and again about the indiscriminate felling of trees and use of heavy machinery. “But the people’s representatives themselves shut us out. Development is necessary but development is also possible without destroying the environment,” said Dhungana.