The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) is taking several steps to mitigate the impacts of pollution and climate change. One of their recent announcements, the “Tree Bank” initiative, drawing an analogy from “carbon trading”, is particularly interesting.
India has shown tremendous progress with regard to road connectivity and transport in the last few years. The country’s transport and logistics network is one of the major assets for economic growth.
However, the rapid development of roads and highways in the country imposes a severe challenge: widespread deforestation.
Besides, most six- and eight-lane wide highways have nothing but barren land and minor development adjacent to them. This creates long stretches of urban heat islands, far from ideal for the microclimate.
Planting trees alongside Indian highways is not only useful but absolutely paramount. It has a direct correspondence with abating climate change and positively impacting the micro- and macro-climate of the region.
Tree Bank Initiative: Eco-Debits and Credits for Infra Agencies
With a goal to counter environment-negative practices like road construction and ensure greenery along the country’s highways, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari recently announced the special “Tree Bank” initiative.
The programme aims at agencies responsible for creating infrastructure projects (roads, highways, railways, and airports). Such infrastructure projects are usually always environment-intensive, requiring mass deforestation.
The Tree Bank scheme draws from the market-based instrument of carbon trading. It allows authorities to compensate for environment-intensive activities (like construction) through plantation and replantation.
Organizations can open “Tree Bank accounts” measuring the number of trees they plant. The history of previously planted trees will play a conducive role when they apply for tree transplantation or cutting for a new infrastructure project.
Under the Tree Bank programme, infrastructure agencies can start planting on wasteland and degraded forest areas to boost their credits. Any activity that has a detrimental effect on the environment gets an “eco-debit” score, while plantation drives get “eco-credits”.
All authorities employing the scheme will thus have an “eco-ledger” detailing eco-credits and debits. This will depend on how many trees they have planted or felled to date. It may also include incentives and penalty systems to encourage positive credit balances in “Tree Bank” accounts.
When Green and Tech Combine
Such plantation drives and a focus on greening are not new for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). Back in 2020, it announced a GPS-based mobile app that tracks the location, growth, species information, and maintenance of each plant across plantation projects.
Every three months, photos and data of the plants collected through the Harit Path app are sent to the Data Lake, the NHAI’s Artificial Intelligence-powered Big Data Analytics platform, to monitor their growth and general health.
The maintenance of the plantations and the responsibility to replace any lost or dead plants fall directly to the highway contractors. In fact, they are paid in accordance with the growth and performance of their plants.
According to NHAI Project Director Vikas Bramhankar, 1.5 lakh saplings will be planted on the 200km highway divided into four parts.
A Green ‘Roadmap’
The Tree Bank initiative by MoRTH, in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is in line with the National Green Highways Mission, which envisions creating green belts along the highways for sustainable development and inclusive growth.
Looking forward, the Centre and states can establish institutional procedures to further develop the scoring system and manage the eco-ledger efficiently. Development agencies participating in the programme can help cohesively establish the rules for each set of activities.
The true realization of this initiative will happen when Ministries make it mandatory to apply for and use credit certificates from the Tree Bank during proposals and presentations for green approvals.