At least 33,000 fully grown trees are proposed to be felled to make way for the Ghaziabad-Meerut-Muzaffarnagar Kanwar pilgrimage route, the Uttar Pradesh government has informed the National Green Tribunal, The Times of India reported on Saturday.

During the annual Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage, devotees of the Hindu deity Shiva collect water from the Ganga near Haridwar and carry it back to their home states to offer at temples.

The devotees, called Kanwariyas, travel hundreds of kilometres on foot from their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh to Uttarakhand and back.

About 10 million Kanwariyas from Uttar Pradesh alone undertake the pilgrimage every year, the state government has informed the National Green Tribunal.

The environmental court has taken suo motu cognisance of the matter after the Union environment ministry allowed the Uttar Pradesh government to cut a total 1,10,000 trees and plants for the project across Ghaziabad, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar districts.

“This route [through the three districts] is classified as ‘very crowded’ for both common people and devotees,” an unidentified government official was quoted as saying in The Times of India. “A total of 54 villages in Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, and Ghaziabad lie along this route, causing significant traffic disruption during Shravan [as auspicious month in the Hindu calendar]”.

In 2018, the government proposed to build an alternate route for the pilgrims through western Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. To compensate for the loss of vegetation as a result of project, the state government told the National Green Tribunal that it has earmarked 222 hectares for afforestation in Lalitpur district and deposited Rs 1.5 crore with the forest department.

The environmental court has sought more details about the project from the state public works department, the forest department, the Union environment ministry and the district magistrates of Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Ghaziabad.