Cross Posted from Times of India
Dozens of locals from Golconda protested the axing of 81 trees in Naya Qila, demanding the arrest of the guilty persons and speeding up of the probe by the forest and district administration into the incident.
Locals said heritage and environment violations were unheard of in Naya Qila, until Hyderabad Golf Association’s golf course took shape. In one of the biggest-ever environmental massacres in recent times, 81 neem trees were axed to clear way for the expansion of 18-hole golf course earlier this month.
Forest officials, who began counting the felled trunks of the neem treeson May 12, initiated a probe, saying this is the third and biggest instance of tree cutting that has come to light in Naya Qila. According to them, the Archaelogical Survey of India and the Hyderabad Golf Association were the prime suspects.
On Monday, locals staged a protest on this issue for the first time since the incident. “Farmers have been cultivating lands there for 150 years. There has never been any instance of tree cutting or sand dumping all these years,” said Mohammed Illyas, during the protest at Indira Park. Shouting “HGA murdabad” and “APDTC murdabad”, the activists threatened to step up their protests if no action was taken against those responsible for the green murder.
Amidst slogan chanting and condemning HGA, APTDC and the state government, locals rued that previous instances of bush burning in the Naya Qila vicinity, allegedly set by HGA, resulted in death of peacocks, rabbits and snakes. They also alleged that APTDC officials approach farmers demanding to see land ownership papers in a bid to intimidate them to move out of the area. Farmers are involved in a pitched battle over possession with the government.
M Veda Kumar of Forum for a Better Hyderabad said farmers are being affected as water channels irrigating their fields were blocked without permission from the Irrigation department. The water is being drained from Naya Qila lake for maintaining the golf course. “This is a crime against Telangana farmers,” he said.
The district administration which received a report on the felling of neem trees from forest department last week is contemplating stronger action and its legal department is examining ways to deal with the case, an official said.
The forest department which issued notices to HGA last week is also set to issue notices to ASI (custodian of Naya Qila) for allowing the tree cutting. The HGA has denied any tree felling took place on golf course land and has maintained that it was only assisting ASI in removing rank vegetation.
However, locals are not willing to buy this theory. “The land where trees were felled is within the fenced limits of the golf course. Trees have to be planted there in compensation for the cut trees,” said Mohammed Afzal of Heritage Watch. He also said all trees in the area should be enumerated. “If they are cut in the future it would be easy to identify the destruction. Perpetrators of tree cutting get away easily by paying a fine. Those who cut trees in Naya Qila should be jailed. We will continue our protests if strict action is not taken,” he added.