Guest Column

Saving the banyan, one tree at a time

This is a Guest column written for Filter Kaapi Live by Uday Krishna Pedireddi of the VATA Foundation ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June. Uday Krishna is doing admirable work to save the nearly one thousand banyan trees that dot the national highways in Telangana. And he is helping them take root in a new home.

By Uday Krishna Peddireddi

I was shaken by the sight of this fallen banyan tree. Majestic even as it lay dead. 

This was on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur highway. The tree must easily have been about 80+ years old. In officialdom, the reason for its murder would have been mentioned as `road-widening’. In reality, it would either be some official who could not care less for the environment or some greedy woodcutters or the neighbouring farmer. 

Until a few years ago, all national and state highways leading to Hyderabad had gorgeous banyan trees lined up, creating a canopy for the traveler to revel in. People would often stop under these trees to take a break, eat under the shade and carry on with their journey. The pictures that you see (slideshow below) are like from a bygone era. 

The story is very different today. Almost all highways have become bare. With saplings struggling to grow, I wonder if our children will even get to see any Highway in this country with fully grown majestic biodiverse trees. In the hurry to grow greenery, we see fast growing varieties being planted all across our new highways. They grow fast and fall fast too. 

Highway journeys during my childhood had breaks in between under these majestic trees. Some had natural swings which soon became favourite spots. Today’s kids will never know such things existed. Taking a lunch break under such trees was common. 

Today they are replaced by mundane coffee shops. Where are we headed? Isn’t anyone even thinking 10 years from now? We are losing our biodiversity and yet the government seems oblivious to this massacre. On one hand, the Telangana government puts the dying 700-year-old legendary Pillalmarri tree of Mahbubnagar district on `drips’ after it was infested by termites. And on the other hand, it allows thousands of 100-year-old banyans to be ruthlessly chopped. 

Why? Why is there no effort to ensure some of this heritage is kept intact for future generations? Highways can be realigned and in the worst case, at least translocate the effected trees. We need to save what little we have before dreaming of recreating. Even before the new saplings can grow, the highways are again being widened showing lack of planning and wasting precious resources – saplings /water/ labour/ money – which could have been used elsewhere more fruitfully.

Close to 960 banyan trees were to be axed in the 50 km stretch between Moinabad and Manneguda on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur highway. I understand that it is not practical to ask the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to stop the road widening work once more than half the highway has been laid. But thanks to the support our Vata Foundation received from over 35000 citizens through an online petition and many village panchayats, the NHAI has agreed to hold off the road widening project until the trees are translocated. 

We at the Vata Foundation will translocate them and also ensure each tree gives way to 1000 saplings through branch propagation. We plan to move the trees to a space where they are not likely to face the danger of being cut again. We will recreate as many trees as possible and force the government to plant the same along our highways so that in 20 years, we will start seeing these gentle giants spread their wings again.

(Vata Foundation is at www.facebook.com/vatafoundation

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