AIR spotlight summary on Green Highways Project
Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Shri Nitin Gadkari launched the initial plantation drive on 1,500 km of National Highways at a cost of about Rs 300 crore under the National Green Highways Mission. The launch was announced at a workshop organized by the National Green Highways Mission on the theme “Green Highways Projects: Way Ahead”.
Highlights of Green Highways Project
- The initiative is much more than Afforestation. It is to improve the livelihood and providing the green canopy all through the highways. Such an initiative had not been contemplated earlier.
- People in these areas will be roped in to implement the programme along with companies, NGOs, cooperatives and institutions to undertake the work of planting trees along the highways and therefore the local people would stand to gain. Some PSUs like IOC and Coal India Limited are contributing under their CSR initiative.
- The government has made it mandatory to set aside 1% of the total project cost of any national highway contract to a Green Fund for plantation.
- For any project it is important to create a separate fund and 1% of the total project cost should be earmarked for the fund, especially for a green project. It ensures that there will be additional activity along with laying and repairing of roads.
- The government plans to spend an estimated Rs 5,000 crore, which is 1% of the road construction cost of Rs 5 trillion till 2019 on the mission and link it with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to boost the rural economy.
- Calling upon government and private agencies to join hands under the initiative, Gadkari said only serious players need come forward as the projects will be monitored through satellite technology, and payments will be made only after successful implementation. An app to monitor real-time progress of the plantation drive and plants was also launched.
- There will be a separate implementing and monitoring agency. The modus operandi of selection will be based on specific criteria and the best implementing agencies will be chosen.
- Ten states are already on board. States participation is very important.
Importance of Green Highways Project
- Greening project has a huge potential to generate jobs and can prove to be a game-changer for agriculture and rural economy.
- It may even be linked with the NREGA scheme. It is not only on providing employment. The emphasis is on creation of durable assets. These assets will strengthen livelihood security and provide nutrition security. This is a good initiative of tying up different programmes as grass root level.
- The Afforestation is expected to help in sequestering approximately 12 lakh mt carbon annually. This helps in achieving the commitment made by India in Paris summit.
- Plantation will be area specific. We can’t have one tree planted across the length and breadth of the country. People’s participation is important in the selection of trees.
- There have been reports of increase in forest cover in India. The target is to have 33% of forest area. At present it is 22%. Achieving the target is feasible and doable. We had 33% forest area not so long back. The Green Highways Project adds to it.
Other Initiatives taken on the occasion
- Besides this ‘Kisan Harit Rajmarg Yojana’ was also launched on the occasion. The Yojana 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. The idea is to involve entire population in the development process and standing by environmental commitments is important to India.
- There is a proposal to use solid waste in the construction of roads. This is a very significant step contemplated by the ministry. We are struggling with waste management in urban areas for a long time and the situation is alarming in Delhi.
- Other initiative the ministry has taken is 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. It is important to have goals and make sure that everybody else who is involved in the changeover is on same page and works according to the same time frame as the government does.
- The government intends to expand the Green Highway Project to state and district highways.
- Unless there is policy initiative by the government in this direction not much will happen on the ground. Over a period of time the pollution levels would come down and the auto industry should fall in line and may have to join hands in curbing the menace of pollution.
- There is need to have good efficient public transport, only then we can expect people to switch over from personal to public transport. There is also a need to change the public mindset. It has become a status symbol to own multiple cars. There has to be lot of advocacy and public sensitization to make people realize the enormous costs to the environment and to the country.