The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has served a notice to Punjab government for axing 96,000 trees for widening Zirakpur-Bathinda highway (NH64).The state government and the Punjab Pollution Control Board have been asked to submit a reply by Friday. The notice was served on a complaint filed by Sangrur based Dr Amandeep Aggarwal on April 6.The NGT headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar and three other members issue the notice.Aggarwal requested compensatory green cover along the expressway for over 96000 trees which were axed for the ambitious project.According to the forest department, the trees axed in Mohali, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala and Bathinda included sheesham, neem, arjuna, brahma drek, melia, keekar and eucalyptus.The petition said the trees, including several mature and others just 10 to 15 year old were axed in the guise of development. Nearly 50 per cent of the trees were planted around 15 years ago under the Rs 450 crore forestation project.The work on the project is being carried out by the National Highways Authority of India through the state government.

The four-laning of this 200 km stretch will cost Rs 2,500 crore.Dr Aggarwal argued that the green cover has been axed without any planning for future needs or expansion or concern for the environment. “Moreover, the government has committed compensatory plantation in the Kandi area which is far off from the districts where green cover has been depleted,” he said.In future at least four times the number of trees to be axed should be planted around the expressway and that too keeping room for further expansion or future development.Principal Chief Conservative of Forest Kuldeep Kumar said that when it comes to compensatory forestation, the first preference is always within the district.“If land is not available within the district then the possibility is explored outside the district. If such land is not available within state then we have national land banks outside Punjab. In this case, the land was not available within the affected districts, so we had to go for the Kandi area,” he said.