Green activists in Agra have demanded immediate stop to planned construction of a new bypass road through the eco-sensitive dense forest along the Yamuna river, neighbouring the Ramsar Wetland and the protected Soor Sarovar bird sanctuary and lake. The area is home to reptiles, birds, and is the site for the largest sloth bear shelter.
In a memorandum addressed to the prime minister, eminent environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya and others, attention has been drawn to the clandestine efforts of builders and colonisers who stand to benefit from the road construction, to pressure the Yogi Adityanath government to start work on this controversial project.
Bhattacharya told IANS that the green stretch along the river Yamuna was a critical eco buffer between the Taj Mahal and the Mathura Oil Refinery. “This green buffer absorbs most of the pollutants and has also helped stall the March of the Rajasthan desert towards UP. The trees have helped block and filter the dust-laden westerlies from the west. Now some people are hell bent on destroying this green cover for a road construction project whose utility remains questionable.”
Two years ago, before work could begin on a Detailed Project Report by a private agency in the Rs 375 crore, 25-km-long bypass, serious objections were raised by local environmentalists.
In response the environment ministry shelved the project. But now, some vested interest groups have again become active to get the project operationalised. Large chunks of farm lands have been bought in anticipation of big projects coming up along the proposed bypass.
The previous Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh had cleared the new Northern Bypass project to link the Delhi-Agra National Highway with the Yamuna Expressway.
Green activists said the pollution problem in Agra is already severe, as a result of the dry Yamuna, increasing number of vehicles on the roads, frenetic construction activity all around. A new road construction through the green stretch could only further compound the problem that the Supreme Court of India and the National Green Tribunal have been trying so hard since 1993 to solve, through a slew of measures.