According to several media reports, nearly 3,000 trees were used on a railway land to build the helipad for the prime minister.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Balangir district in Odisha has been marred with controversy over setting up of a temporary helipad by axing thousands of trees. According to several media reports, nearly 3,000 trees were used on a railway land to build the helipad for the prime minister. While the forest department officials asked for a probe into the matter, railways denied the claim.
India Today Fact Check found that the claim is not entirely true. Only a handful of trees and saplings were removed to build the helipad. Almost all the prominent newspapers and websites such as The Indian Express, The Hindu, The Week and Kalinga TV claimed that hundreds to thousands of trees were cut to build the helipad.
The OpIndia claimed that all these reports were “a lie”. The website also falsely claimed that India Times, a flagship of the India Today Group also reported the news based on The Hindu. First, India Times is not a part of the India Today Group. Second, we have never reported about the issue.
India Today independently tried to verify the facts behind the allegations of massive falling of trees.
We contacted Sameer Satpathy, the divisional forest officer of Balangir. He said, “Several trees had fallen near the railway station ground in the district to prepare the temporary helipad for Modi’s visit without obtaining prior permission. Satpathy added that an inquiry in this regard has been ordered. According to Satpathy, 3,500 saplings were planted in that area in 2016 under the urban plantation programme.
Our local correspondent Suffian sent us a bunch of photographs from the area, where one can see only some uprooted saplings and fallen tree trunks lying near the helipad.
We contacted senior officials of the East Coast Railway, who denied the allegations that thousands of trees were cut. According to the preliminary probe report by railways, not more than 40 shrubs and saplings were removed. The report stated that about six trees on the railway land were axed and a few pruned to accommodate the arrangements required for the function.
To ascertain the plantation status and greenery of that particular spot where the helipad is located, India Today contacted a local shop owner, Suraj Tripathy, from near the Balangir Railway Station. Tripathy agreed to assist us in our investigation and reached the location. He sent us his geolocation found through Google Maps.
Using Google Earth, we spotted the exact location on the satellite picture. The late November 2018 picture of the exact spot shows that it was a vacant land even a month ago. The satellite picture, therefore, debunks the claim that there were thousands of trees in that area. Only a handful of them are visible in the picture.
India Today Fact Check established that the claim made by some media houses regarding cutting of thousands of trees is not true. In reality, only a handful of trees were axed and some saplings uprooted.