Op-Ed: How to Plant Trees on Thin Air!

“Over 1000 trees felled PM Modi’s helipad in Odisha.” “Hundreds of trees felled to make space for PM’s helipad.” “Irreparable loss: 1000 trees cut in Odisha to build a helipad for PM Modi’s arrival.” The screaming headlines suggested that an ecological disaster of sorts had just taken place in Bolangir.

The source for all these scary headlines was the same: what Bolangir DFO Samir Satpathy told the media after an ‘on-the-spot’ inquiry to assess the loss on Sunday. Since it had to do with the Prime Minister, it was perhaps natural that the national media, which rarely bothers reporting what is happening in the backwaters of Odisha, gave it more than its fair share of coverage. But why did the local media fail to conduct the elementary cross-checking that it is duty bound to do? Why everyone, including the local correspondents of Odia newspapers, chose to go along with the DFO’s version. Why no one stopped to find out whether there was any truth in it or to check out if there were really that many ‘trees’ in the land cleared for the helipad?

Some questions suggested themselves. Why no one in town saw these ‘4 to 8 feet high’ trees before work on the helipad began? Why pre-helipad visuals of the location did not show the trees? Where were the trunks of the ‘1000-1200 trees’ that were allegedly felled to make the helipad? If only 1000-1200 trees out of the 3, 500 supposedly planted as part of the urban plantation programme in 2016-17 were cut, where did the other 2500 vanish? How can the DFO write a letter to authorities of East Coast Railway – and even threaten to impose a ‘fine’ – when the latter was no way involved in either the selection of the site or building of the helipad, which was entirely done by the district administration? And last but not the least, why did the ruling BJD, still smarting under the criticism heaped on the government for the felling of over 700 trees to make way for a beer factory in Angul two months ago, let go of this heaven-sent opportunity to ‘return the compliment’?

The fact that no one bothered to find answers to these obvious questions makes it clear that the story was cooked up to fit a narrative. Ask anyone in Bolangir and he would tell you that all that existed in the land cleared for the helipad were a few shrubs, stumps and only a handful of saplings. They would also tell you that the vast majority of the saplings planted in 2016-17 (assuming that they were planted on the ground and not on paper!) had perished due to lack of maintenance. But who bothers about truth when the idea is to score a few political brownie points?

Curiously, when this columnist contacted the DFO on Monday, the man who had read out a virtual charge sheet against the Railway authorities just the previous day refused to say anything on the issue even after a lot of cajoling. A discreet inquiry revealed that his new found silence had to with the chiding he had received from the district administration for exceeding his brief and embarrassing not just the administration but the government as a whole.

Only the DFO knows why he said what he said. But this columnist’s concern is not what he said but why did the media choose to lap it up without necessary verification? It is this tendency to push a narrative irrespective of the truth of what is being reported that is responsible for media credibility coming under serious question in the recent past.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)