The road ministry has finalised a “green highways” policy to “tree-line” 140,000 kilometres of national highways. Under this policy, one per cent of the civil cost of national highway development projects will have to be set aside for the planting of trees in a planned manner, covering both existing NH sections and new routes that would be added to the network.
The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) has formulated the new Green Highways (Plantation and Maintenance) Policy, 2015 after a series of reviews, which raised concerns about the poor quality and lack of maintenance of green cover along most national highways.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Nitin Gadkari said: “The glare from the headlights of incoming vehicles and the effect of winds, one of the reasons for accidents, could be reduced if there was adequate attention to developing the national highways in an eco-friendly manner. We have therefore decided to tree-line the 97,000 km of existing national highways and around 40,000 km of new roads that we would be adding to the network over the next few years.”
He said the initiative sought to take forward the NDA government’s flagship Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and is expected to generate employment for about five lakh people.
According to the norms outlined in the policy, the government will create a pool of 1,000-odd contractors with their own nurseries, who will be entrusted with planting trees, landscaping and laying grass turfs and ornamental shrubs along national highways. The policy aims to provide employment to the local people and will be implemented with the participation of the local communities, farmers, NGOs, private sector players, local self-government bodies and the forest department.
“We will put this initiative under the MNREGA scheme. If required, we can give advances to farmers and contractors for purchasing trucks and tractors,” said Gadkari. MoRTH is scheduled to hold a workshop of all stakeholders on August 27 to finalise an action plan.
“Planting trees in any particular area will depend on the soil suitability there, besides climate and success stories. Konkan in Maharashtra is famous for Alphonso, we can plant it there. In Chhattisgarh, we can have tamarind. Somewhere in between the road lengths, we can have flowers like roses,” he said.
Planting fruit-bearing trees specific to the region can aid revenue generation. Besides, waste products or biomass from trees along the road can be used to make fertilisers — the proceeds from the sale would be divided equally between the contractor and the local panchayat body.
Under the plan, the ministry or NHAI will appoint an authorised agency for empanelment of plantation agencies, which will then be allowed to bid for the projects. Projects are expected to be awarded on a turnkey basis, depending on the quantum of plantation for the specific site. The plantation agency will have no right on the land and cannot undertake any other activity on such land.
The agency will have to sign a pact to ensure strict compliance with the technical specifications, species, maintenance schedule, survival, payment terms and conditions and on the legal right of the land as well as the forest produce.
Globally, tree-lining of highways has either been entrusted to non-profit government organisations or left to state or provincial governments. In Japan, for instance, the Japan Highway Public Corporation, a non-profit government organisation managing the construction and operation of inter-city expressways and toll roads, is entrusted with the task of coordinating tree-lining as well as recycling of plant waste generated from pruning and mowing activities.
In Romania, the Romanian National Forestry Company Romsilva started work two years ago on a curtain forest cover along an 11-km A2 highway segment, which connects Romania’s capital Bucharest to the Black Sea port of Constanta and is among the most exposed roads to winter blizzards.
In the US state of Maryland, Harford County administration took up a two-year, $1.6 million project involving the planting of about 22,000 trees since early last year, including along highways, to improve the green cover and also the local water quality. A variety of deciduous and evergreen species were planted during the spring of 2014, and the project is scheduled to continue through the spring of 2016.
140,000 km to be lined with trees
# Trees to line 140,000 km of national highways
# 1% of NH project cost to be set aside for planting trees
# To plant fruit-bearing trees specific to region, for instance Alphonso in Konkan, tamarind in Chhattisgarh
# To provide local employment, to be included under the rural jobs guarantee scheme