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Felling forests: Russia's way for highways

By Paromita Pain - 17 Dec 2010 8:20:3 GMT
Felling forests: Russia's way for highways

After the recent opening of the Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone to tourists Russia is back in the news again. The Russian government has recently passed orders to build a new Moscow-St.Petersburg highway. While this will make travel easier and ease the burden of traffic in Moscow that cause huge delays in getting to the city's Sheremetyevo Airport, the news hasn't been greeted with joy. In fact environments and common citizens alike are up in arms against the project because building this highway will mean destruction of the ancient Khimki Forest outside the capital.

This oak tree forest covers about 1000 hectares and is an integral part of the 'Green belt' around Moscow. Many animals' like the wild boars, elks, foxes and endangered plants and insects are found here. Building the highway, in its proposed plan, will mean cutting down part of this forest. Protests about this saw the Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev halting construction. But recently the project has been given the go ahead. Government officials say that the route chosen through the forest is the least damaging of all possibilities considered since this will constitute the destruction of only two houses whereas other alternatives will mean breaking down several dozens more.

Troubled times

Greenpeace Russia has declared that the Khimki forests along with counterparts the Baikal and Utrish, though situated thousands kilometers away from each other, have become symbols of “our troubled times, when public interests are replaced by private interests, when the citizens, who uphold their rights to access clean air, are intimidated by the government, and when the authorities flagrantly violate the laws and the rights of their fellow citizens”.

The protests have seen many high profile personalities like rock star Bono of the group U2 and Russian rock artist Yuri Shevchuk, an outspoken critic of the highway's planned route lend support. Environmentalists aren't the only people against this destruction. Corruption watchers say there is more here than what meets the eye. Construction, especially road building, is among the most corrupt sector in the country with way to amass enormous bribes and kickbacks. This they say also point out to abuses of power by those in positions to make a difference.

Government assurances that the 100 hectares uprooted will be planted elsewhere to compensate have been called 'fiction' by environmentalists who say the Khimki Forests are irreplaceable.