NHAI and road ministry’s green fund rejected by finance ministry
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New Delhi: The finance ministry has red-flagged a Rs.5,000 crore plan by the roads ministry to plant trees along national highways, saying such initiatives should be the remit of the environment ministry.
The road ministry wants to plant trees along 6,000 km of highways, with a corpus of Rs.1,000 crore set aside for the drive in the first year.
The finance ministry said the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) under the environment ministry, which looks after social forestry, already has accumulated funds of Rs.38,000 crore.
“CAMPA falls under the aegis of Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change. The government has already introduced a bill in the Parliament to create a fund in the public account and to transfer the said funds accumulated into it. As the activities of CAMPA are very closely related to what is being proposed by the road ministry, establishment of a separate fund may result in overlap of responsibilities besides unnecessary parking of funds when a large corpus is already available with CAMPA,” the finance ministry said in a letter to the roads ministry.
The finance ministry’s stand, communicated on 27 July, comes as a setback for the roads ministry and its boss Nitin Gadkari who had launched the Green Highways (Plantation, Transplantation, Beautification and Maintenance) Policy in September 2015. Under the policy, 1% of highway project costs, adding up to Rs.5,000 crore, is to be kept aside for greening national highways.
In April, the ministry and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) signed memoranda of understanding with non-government organizations, companies and the forest department for highway greening. A mobile application and website were also launched to track the progress of highway greening.
All efforts were made with the idea that 1% of the total project cost of all highways projects would be available.
A road ministry official said, “The road ministry was being very pro-active in this move and setting up dedicated money was very essential. The move would have helped us to reduce India’s carbon footprints, discourage encroachment along the national highways, reduce pollution and also (offer a) better driving experience on national highways.” He added that the circular making it mandatory to keep 1% of the total project cost was withdrawn last week, requesting anonymity.
NHAI chairman Raghav Chandra refused to comment on the move.
He said, “When we approve national highways we keep a provision for consolidated costs, including land acquisition, shifting of utility and greening too. So this will now take care of greening highways.”
Gadkari had planned to generate employment opportunities for around 500,000 people from rural areas, with plans drawn up to allow planting under the national rural job guarantee scheme.
The roads ministry had also made arrangements for a monitoring mechanism for the green canopy developed under this programme by using the Bhuvan and GAGAN satellite systems of Indian Space Research Organisation, which would count every planted tree.