The Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways and Shipping has launched the initial plantation drive on 1500 km on National Highways at a cost of Rs. 300 crore under the National Greenways Highways Mission (NGHM). This new mission of the government aspires to be a game-changer for agriculture and rural economy.
The government is giving lot of emphasis on afforestation and now this new initiative has been taken whereby there will be green cover along the highways. This will have a benefit in employment generation. Greening of one km of highway provides employment to ten people. The initial launch of 1,500 km under the Mission will employ 15,000 people.
National Highways are 1 lakh km, State Highways are 1.5 lakh km and other roads are 49 lakh km. Though the project is initially for National Highways, subsequently, it will be implemented across the length and breadth of the country.
More than just a greening drive
This initiative is much more than afforestation. It involves improving livelihoods and providing a green canopy all through the highways which will criss-cross the entire country.
It will be a game changer for agriculture and rural economy through public participation. Although there must be PSUs, NGOs, start ups who would be given the projects to implement, they would in turn get into local populace to implement the project. They would stand to gain because most of these plantation is supposed to be giving returns like fruit bearing trees or other things of economic importance. So the livelihoods will definitely improve and it would have ripple effect in surrounding areas through the country.
It will also reduce the impacts of air pollution and dust as trees and shrubs along the Highways act as natural sink for air pollutants and arrest soil erosion at the embankment slopes.
Plants along highway median strips and along the edges reduce the glare of oncoming vehicles which sometimes become cause of accidents.
The environmental impact of the project is that it will help in sequestering 12 lakh metric tonne carbon annually under green initiatives, complementing the Paris commitments which include reduction in carbon emission upto 35% till 2030 from its 2005 levels and develop additional carbon sink of 2.5 billion tonnes being covered outside forest.
The plant species selected will be region specific depending on local conditions such as rainfall, climate type of soil etc. Mindless plantation of one species of a tree across the roads will be of no use. In the past, such things have happened which has been detrimental to the economy and ecology as well. (Planting species unfavourable to soil/rain/weather condition is a sure shot towards hampered growth and pre-mature death, thereby wasting money, time and resources). So, it is going to be specific to different states and diff stretches, there will proper selection of species and people will be involved in the process.
The investment is very impressive as for every National Highway project undertaken, 1% has to be set aside for the Green Fund. Within 1-2 years, the entire stretch of National Highways is expected to be covered. It will have tremendous impact on environment and economy as a whole. Government plans to spend an estimated Rs. 5000 crore, which is one percent of road construction cost which is 5 trillion, till 2019.
It is a significant step as now it is ensured that there will be additional activity along with construction and repair of roads throughout the country.
Stock of CAMPA fund is also lying with government to tune of Rs. 40000 crore. The bill needs to be passed to utilise the funds for various green initiatives. There has been encouraging reports of increasing forest cover in India but the target of 33% area is to be achieved by various initiatives. There is no timeline to the project but what is important is that it is doable.
Engaging public and private institutions
The launch of ‘Adopt a Green Highway’ Program to engage corporates, Public Sector units, Government organizations and other institutions for developing green corridor along National Highways through plantation and allied activity on avenue, median and other available nearby land patches .
‘Kisan Harit Rajmarg Yojana’ was also launched which is a pilot scheme to extend green belt beyond the existing ‘Right of Way’ of highways by engaging farmers and providing alternative livelihood option to the nearby communities.
Some CPSUs like IOC, CIL have shown interest which comes under the CSR umbrella very easily. So many more are expected to be drawn in the programme. This will be supplemented by contribution of start ups, NGOs, private citizens who are interested in programme. It will become some kind of civil society movement.
The main focus of such programmes is to involve population in the development process. Environment is very important as we have made international commitments in Paris which needs to be complemented by different ministries coming together.
Effective Monitoring Plans
There will be a separate implementing and monitoring agency. Usually, everything is put in one basket and ultimately nothing happens. But specific agencies for specific tasks will show the results. The modus operand of selection will be based on specific criteria and the best implementing agencies will be chosen.
The government talks about tight monitoring where only serious players will be allowed. It is a huge benefit as satellite technology will be used for monitoring (ISRO’s Bhuvan and GAGAN) and apps (National Green Highways Mission Mobile App) being used so as to monitor all the projects with real time data from the fields. The technology will assist in identifying the bottlenecks quickly and ensure speedy and successful implementations of the projects.
Every planted tree will be counted and auditing will be done. The agencies performing well will be awarded. The minister has even gone so far to say that no payment will be made unless the work is actually done on ground. Thus, it’s an apt monitoring plan.
Linking with MGNREGA
The government has proposed to link it with MGNREGA as the emphasis is now on creation of durable assets. It is not only about providing employment for 100 days in a year, but there will be construction of durable assets which will strengthen livelihood security in the country. It is a good way of tying up different government programmes at the grassroots level. It also has an effect on nutrition for the people in that area (increased employment à more income à increased expenditure on quality products). So, from health point of view, the populace stands to gain by such initiatives.
The programme has just been announced so it will take a while to percolate the message. It will surely be a reality as a part of funding shall be dedicated to proper dissemination of information to the intended beneficiaries.
Recently, a charter was signed between NGHM and YES BANK to create awareness on greening of highways and explore synergies between NGHM’s objectives and YES BANK’s CoP21 commitment of planting 20 lakh saplings by 2020.
Supplementary and innovative alternatives
One proposal is to use the solid waste in construction of roads wherein peripheral roads around Delhi will have pilot initiative. It is a significant step contemplated by ministry as solid waste management has been a struggle, especially in urban areas for long time. Such kind of development initiatives create model urban development and also enhance the aesthetic value of the area.
Other green initiatives include eco-friendly fuel which will save the environment. Government and Supreme Court have come in together to curb pollution. Unless there are policy initiatives which are initiated by the government itself in this direction, not much can be expected to happen. The pollution level can be seen coming down through policy initiatives only. Auto makers, auto industries will have to fall in line and join hands to curtail pollution.
To switch from Bharat Stage IV to Bharat Stage VI emission norms to improve fuel standards. There has been some reluctance on part of auto industry and oil refining sector because it means a lot in terms of investment and technology. It is important to have goals and make sure that everybody else who is participant in the change is on same page.
The participation of states is equally important with 10 states already on board for green highway initiative. Without participation of states, such initiatives are not successful. For instance, the forest department of Haryana government and Andhra Pradesh PWD have come forward to implement the programme.
The impact of the project will take couple of months to be visible, the daily targets have been set but the green canopy across the highways will take 1-2 years.
The urban transportation policy has to focus on moving people rather than moving vehicles. Thus, a public transport needs to efficient and then only expect public to switch over from private to public transport. Private transport has become a status symbol and this mentality needs to be changed. There has to be lot of advocacy and public sensitization to make people realise the enormous cost to the environment and to country. Along with greening highways, the people are to be given pleasant driving experience and also development of villages which provide multiple facilities for travellers, truck drivers and others and establishing CNG stations which are difficult to find on highways.
The policy when implemented in letter and spirit will result into India being a “Nation with Natural Highways”. It will address the issues that lie in the “road of development” and pave “a journey towards sustainable development”.
It is the onus of the communities involved in the path of development that they also participate in the process of protection of nature. The Government can frame policies, provide standards, but success of projects depends on strong monitoring which is not possible without active community participation and community ownership.
National Green Highways Mission: the Green Highways (Plantation, Transplantation, Beautification & Maintenance) Policy, 2015 aims to promote greening of Highway corridors with participation of the community, farmers, private sector, NGOs, and government institutions. Vision: to involve the local communities in the plantation work.
CAMPA: Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority.
Because of developmental or industrial requirements, forests are routinely cut, or, as it is said in official language, “diverted for non-forest purposes”. In such cases, the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980 requires that non-forest land, equal to the size of the forest being “diverted”, is afforested.
Thus, if any user agency wants to divert forest land for non-forest purposes, it has to deposit money for compensatory afforestation as well as pay the Net Present Value, besides a few other charges. Since forests are being diverted routinely (at the rate of about 20,000-25,000 ha per year according to the Ministry of Environment and Forests) a large sum of money is accruing to the government. Currently, more than Rs 40,000 crore has accumulated from these sources, and the fund is increasing at the rate of about Rs 6,000 crore every year.
Right of Way Highways: a right to make a way over a piece of land, usually to and from another piece of land. A right of way is a type of easement granted or reserved over the land for transportation purposes, this can be for a highway, public footpath, rail transport, canal, as well as electrical transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines