Guest Column

Save the banyans of Chevella

Editor’s note : The guest column written by Uday Krishna Peddireddi for Filter Kaapi Live on 4 June, 2019 on saving the banyan trees, 960 of them, along the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur national highway provoked much reaction, both appreciative and critical.

Read : `Saving the banyan, one tree at a time’

In this column, the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad lists out what the chopping of any old tree does to the ecosystem, argues against translocation of trees, demands heritage for the Chevella-Bijapur stretch. 

Written by `Nature Lovers of Hyderabad’

In old black-and-white Indian films, one often sees long empty stretches of road with large trees on either side. The hero and heroine in an open-top Chevrolet, singing a romantic duet as they drive under the enormous canopies. The air seems fresh, sunlight dappling through the leaves on to their young faces, love is in the air, and all seems well!

Such roads still exist here and there, but we are fast losing them to new road-widening projects. Nostalgia apart, one needs to think about what this road widening is doing to our world’s old tree habitats and green cover.

“Massive trees to be chopped for road widening on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur road”

A recent news report notes that this is what is being planned on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur highway.  Around 9,300 trees, of which more than 1000 are majestic banyans, many of them 50 years and older, have been marked for the deathly whine of chainsaws.

These old trees are utterly unique. There are probably no such tree clusters anywhere in a radius of 40 km around Hyderabad, and certainly none in such numbers. If these gentle giants die, a part of Telangana’s heritage dies with them.

Every old tree, apart from its many uses to human beings, is a teeming eco-system, home to a myriad animals, birds and insects. Old and large tree canopies are botanically efficient. They are better oxygen generators, soil moisture retainers, dust collectors, water rechargers and carbon sequesterers than young trees or saplings. A large tree can absorb and sequester as much carbon as 90 small trees. With this road expansion, we are displacing an extraordinary variety of life and changing the regional ecosystem. This ultimately affects weather patterns and adds to the climate change catastrophe we find ourselves in.

Why translocation won’t work for large trees

People often suggest translocation of trees as the alternative to tree-felling. They imagine a feel-good ‘have your cake and eat it too’ scenario, in which the whole tree is planted elsewhere, where it is assumed to magically thrive again. This is far from the truth. The sheer size of a large tree requires that it be pruned before translocation. With only a small fraction of its leaves, the tree is usually unable to grow roots and rejuvenate. Even if it does survive, the very reason for its translocation – to retain its value and the life it supports – is lost.

A translocated tree (pic courtesy : Nature Lovers of Hyderabad)

We have examples from the Chevella road itself. At Tolkata (near Shangri la farm house), a total of 35 translocated ‘stumps’ were found, of which only three banyans have survived. On the same road, before Manneguda and after Tangadipalli X roads, 18 stumps were found with only three survivors.

In Adilabad, 133 trees were translocated for widening NH-7, but only 59 survived. Noting this, senior journalist Harpal Singh writes “The low rate of survival thus calls for an area- and species-specific relook into the concept of translocation…”.

Climate change is real

According to Global Forest Watch, India has lost more than 1,20,000 hectares of primary forests in the last 5 years alone. In all probability, we have also lost an equal amount of green cover to road-widening projects and related infrastructure development.

Everyone can see that the rampant tree-felling has drastically changed the climate for the worse, increased air pollution levels, and changed temperatures so that summer heat is now unbearable.

What needs to be done in Chevella?

This leads us to the question: Is upgrading the Chevella highway necessary? We believe it is not warranted as there is a major highway (Bombay road via Zaheerabad) that connects to Bijapur. This highway has recently been expanded at the cost of thousands of stately old trees.

We propose that the National Highways Authority of India should:

1.  Give the entire road heritage status, and leave it as it is now in all its grandeur. In doing so, the Government of Telangana will set an example to the rest of India (and the world). To ease traffic congestion, introduce more frequent public transport.

 OR

2. Replan the project to save the best road stretches with large, mature banyans and other large trees. Translocation is not an option. (Read our full list of suggestions here)

Pradip Krishen, film maker, environmentalist and acclaimed author, says, “The road should be made bypassing the big banyans, which should be treated like heritage trees and landscapes. What a beautiful new avenue you could have if the road wove its way in and out of these landmark trees. Every bit as charismatic as tigers or whales!”

Let us put a stop to this mindless slaughter of stately old trees for road widening, not just on the Chevella Road, but everywhere in India. Let us not relegate tree-lined avenues to mere nostalgia in old films.

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