Is NHAI making Punjab a barren land by excavating top fertile soil?
Kanwar Inder Singh/ March 10,2023
Excavation of top fertile is a growing menace that warrants immediate attention. Owing to rapid development which entails power transmission to the last mile there is a huge generation of fly ash in the country and substantial portion of it remains unutilized which is an environmental concern. Disposal and utilization of ash generated at the thermal power plants has become a pressing and urgent task.
Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had issued an notification (Notification No. S.O. 5481(E.) dated 31.12.2021) for fly-ash utilization in the construction of roads urging the conservation of topsoil and natural resources.
All agencies (Government, Semi-government and Private) engaged in construction activities such as road laying, flyover embankments etc. within 300 kms from the lignite or coal based thermal power plants shall mandatorily utilize fly ash in these activities. An enormous amount of fly ash (over 200 lacs MT) is generated by thermal power plants in Punjab & is not being utilized resulting in excavation of topsoil by the agencies engaged in construction activities. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is utilizing the fertile topsoil in all their construction projects despite having stringent direction from the MOEF&CC.
As per available information, in Punjab the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), has observed this deviation & reiterated the notification by issuing advisory dated November 11,2022 to ensure compliance to the MOEF&CC Notification. This adverse practice of utilizing topsoil for construction activities is seriously hampering the ecology of land by converting fertile agricultural land in the state of Punjab into desolate barren lands with detrimental impact on the biodiversity within the region.
“Despite numerous notifications & advisories from several distinguished government offices as stated above, so far, no action has been taken to curb the menace of topsoil excavation that has been specifically banned” said an environmentalist.
“In the interest of saving environment and ensuring a green future for generations to come it is imperative that NHAI be held accountable for erosion of topsoil and be directed strictly to necessarily make use of fly ash for all road construction sites failing which penalties be levied on them. As per available information, in Punjab, NHAI is not using fly ash for its projects ” said Jasbir Kapoor.
Is NHAI making Punjab a barren land by excavating top fertile soil?. When contacted NHAI project director, he, on the condition of anonymity said “earlier the ministry had issued orders to provide the fly ash for construction works, free of cost. But, now the rules are changed. Now, the thermal plants demand quotations for selling of fly ash through tendering process. They sell the fly ash which was free earlier. The cost of fly ash is much more that of soil. With the costly fly ash the cost of the project also increases.”
When contacted a chef engineer PWD, B&R , on the condition of anonymity said “ this is not the case. Using fly ash in the project is still mandatory. The difference between the cost of soil and fly ash is not much. But keeping in mind the environment, saving of fertile land, using of fly ash is much more needed in this time, if it costs a much than soil. He even added that recently the agencies executing the NHAI work’s has requested the Punjab govt to arrange around 1000 lakh cubic metric ton of fly ash for the ongoing projects of NHAI in Punjab.”