4,000 trees in Patna zoo face the axe for airport safety

Patna, Aug 27 (Calcutta Tube) Nature lovers are concerned over the Bihar government’s plans to cut or prune nearly 4,000 trees in the Patna zoo for airport safety, as they say it is the only green cover for the city’s two million people.

The zoo is formally known as the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park and houses a variety of trees such as semal, bamboo, amaltas, banyan, kusum, arjun and putranjiva.

‘It is madness to cut or prune trees of the zoo to make Patna Airport safer. It would be good to shift the airport outside crowded Patna and plant more trees to convert the present airport into another big green cover,’ said Guddu Baba, a green activist associated with campaigns to clean Ganga river.

He said the trees of the Patna zoo were the only green cover for Patna residents; so the government should do a rethink. ‘The government must shift the airport to Bihta near Patna to ensure green cover,’ Guddu Baba said.

The state government Wednesday said it plans to get a part of the city zoo denotified so as to cut or prune over 3,700-odd trees in a triangular area of 17 acres. It has written to the principal secretary, environment and forests, in this regard.

‘Pruning and cutting of trees are essential for safe landing of aircraft at the Patna airport. The civil aviation ministry has given the state government an ultimatum till August 31 to cut the identified trees that obstruct the approach funnel of the Patna airport,’ an official in the chief minister’s office said Friday.

Father Robert Athickal, the man behind the Patna-based Taru-Mitra, an organisation that campaigns for trees, said he has no objection to some trees being pruned as long as they were not cut down.

‘The move to prune a few trees for a safe airport, which is adjacent to the zoo, is fine,’ he told IANS. But he was against trees being cut, uprooted or hundreds of trees being pruned.

Taru-Mitra has planned a march here Saturday to protest the move to cut trees in the zoo. ‘We will also submit a memorandum to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, seeking protection of the trees in the zoo,’ an organisation official said.

Much to the chagrin of environmentalists, the government has said it would plant rose bushes in place of the trees. It has also requested the environment and forests department to expedite the process of pruning another 249 trees inside the zoo.

‘The pruning of these 249 trees in the Patna zoo has already started,’ a zoo official said.

The government initiated moves to cut or prune trees after the Directorate General of Civil Aviation threatened to declare the airport unsuitable for big aircraft operations from Sep 1 if obstacles to the approach funnel were not cleared.

A two-member Airports Authority of India (AAI) team from Delhi is in Patna and on Wednesday it demarcated the three points that will enclose the area in the zoo which has to be denotified.

Patel Chowk is the first point while the second point lies along the road adjacent to the airport. The third point is between the zoo’s Gate No.2 and Raj Bhavan.

‘We will complete the process of enumerating the trees in this triangular area in a day or two,’ said zoo director Abhay Kumar.

Arun Singh, a nature lover, said trees of the zoo should not be cut for the sake of the airport. ‘The airport can be shifted to Bihta, but trees cannot be planted in a year or two, they take years. Cutting trees will cause environmental problems,’ he said.

Singh said over 2,500 trees were cut or uprooted in Patna in the name of widening of roads in the last three years. ‘No trees planted in place of the uprooted ones,’ he said.

Aneesh Ankur, a morning walker in the Patna zoo, said the move would increase pollution.

At present the zoo, spread across an area of 34 acres, is home to over 10,000 trees of nearly 180 varieties, zoo officials said.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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