Chipko rerun to save Abhayapuri debadarus

'Cut us down before you cut our trees', say environmental activists and students hugging trees marked for cutting in highway project

From our Correspondent

Bongaigaon, Dec 3: The tall, graceful and striking debadaru trees will no more welcome visitors to Abhayapuri.

With plans afoot to axe dozens of more-than-a-hundred year old trees for widening of the Bongaigaon-Salmara-Abhayapuri-Lengtisinga-Hajo-Amingaon State highway, campaigns were today kicked-off by protestors to save the priceless trees standing tall on both sides of the road that pierces the town.

In a unique campaign, students of Abhayeswari Higher Secondary School, in association with several organizations and locals, launched a rerun of the Chipko movement - an organized resistance in the 1970s to the destruction of forests.  The activists hugged the trees and asked the administration to "cut them before cutting the trees". They have also decided to submit a memorandum to the Bongaigaon Deputy Commissioner in this regard.

Organizations including Aaranyak, All Koch Rajbongshi Students' Union and Goriya Moriya Desi Parishad took part in the campaign.

Dr Ashok Kumar Das from Aaranyak said that for construction of the State highway, people of Bongaigaon will have to sacrifice a total 1,112 trees, including many valuable and rare trees under Abhayapuri and Bongaigaon forest division.

"Among these 1,112 trees, the number of debadaru (deodar) trees that will be removed is 63. Among these 63 debdaru trees, some 30 trees are more than 100 years old. At the time when Abhayapuri was the capital of the Bijni kingdom (Royal Estate), the king's elephants were kept tied to these debadaru trees. But all these symbols of history are going to be destroyed now for construction of this road. Already work for construction of this road has started and the Chief Minister has laid the foundation stone of the Lengtisinga to Chapaguri stretch of this road on November 25," he said.

Dr Das said the administration has already started to chop down the trees. "We are not against construction of this road which will improve road communication to Guwahati from Bongaigaon and Abhayapuri, reducing the distance by around 60 km. But if the breadth of the road is expanded on the northern side instead of southern side (most of the debadaru trees in this area from Abhayapuri college to Abhayapuri market are on the southern side of the road), then most of the debadaru trees can be saved. So, we demand that they should expand the road on the northern side," Dr Das said.

According to the diagram of the project, the maximum extension of the road in this stretch will be done on southern side where most of the debadaru trees are.

"The administration had assured us that they will plant trees on both sides of the road with funding from the World Bank after completion of the construction of the road. But how can we trust the government? The same assurance was earlier given while construction of the four-lane corridor.  We all know what happened to those assurances. So, we demand that the administration should save these debadaru trees by expanding the road towards northern side," Atul Ray, advisor of AKRSU said.

"The beauty of Abhayapuri lies in these debadaru trees. Once, during a visit to Abhayapuri, poet Nilamoni Phukan was mesmerized by these debadaru trees. He then called Abhayapuri the 'town of debadaru trees'. Since then Abhyapuri has been called 'Debadaru Town'. But if all these debadarus are cut down, then Abhayapuri will lose not only its beauty, but also its identity," said Bikram Ranjan Ray, lecturer of Abhayapuri College and an environment activist.

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