We don’t want any trees in Chennai.
No one said this, at least not to me, and certainly not out loud. I am saying this to myself. How else does one explain the heartlessness shown towards trees in this city? If one of the reasons it was called Singara Chennai, was the number of tree lined avenues we had everywhere; well, we are Singara no more.
The Kotturpuram Tree Park is a jewel, a tribute to the persistence and dedication shown by a group of tree lovers, and supported by citizens in and around Kotturpuram. The park has many rare species of native trees, and several young trees were meticulously looked after in the wake of Cyclone Vardah. We even wrote about the tree park a few years ago in CM. I have volunteered at the park several times, and marvelled at what a tranquil learning and relaxation space it was beginning to be for the entire community – young children, students, middle aged walkers and senior citizens.
Yesterday, many of us received heart rending visuals of trees and shrubs uprooted inside the tree park along the Adyar river. Over a 100, say Shobha Menon and T D Babu, well known tree lovers and trustees of Nizhal, the NGO that was instrumental in setting up the park 13 years ago. Some of the lost trees are as old as the park. What a wanton waste…
The reason given for the razing is to build a see-through boundary wall for the river. “During the 2015 floods, when the compound wall built by the GCC gave way, these trees stood as a bio shield. They trapped tons of plastics and other garbage and didn’t allow it into the river. It’s so illogical to clear this first line of defence to construct a see-through wall,”says Babu.
It appears a PWD official has termed the incident an ‘accident’, caused by an earthmover operator. Of course, it is the fault of the lowest person in the food chain. But why was this clearing done at night? Why not during the day, when the operator could have seen what lay in front of him? Why this secrecy? What gives government departments and contractors hired by them, the right to destroy months and years of work done by citizens? And how easily they say replantation, like it could be done using some glue or sticking tape..
Last week, given the onset of the monsoon, many areas of Chennai witnessed personnel from TNEB going around ‘trimming’ the branches of trees, that were coming in contact with wires, or likely to come in contact with wires. At least the ones in Velachery, where my parents-in-law live; they said they are from EB. They had no equipment, except a six or seven foot long bamboo pole, at the end of which was tied a large sickle. And they went around hacking trees indiscriminately, standing on the road.
Not for them the time consuming method of using the right equipment to reach up and trim the required branches.. This was so much easier – the tree would not dare to grow for another few years!! They cut Neem trees, mango trees, rain trees, whatever dared to stand in their path. They even cut a young custard apple tree that was barely eight feet in height, as if to tell it, here, take this warning!!
My mother in law saw the men approaching their beloved neem tree, and alerted my father in law, who, God bless him, fought tooth and nail and ensured that their tree did not suffer this fate, but most other residents were not even aware. They came home or opened their doors to find their entrances filled with foliage. Many friends and acquaintances are sharing similar experiences from all over the city.
And then there are those who want to pave their footpath or exit ramp, and if there is a tree right by their gate, God help the tree. Its trunk will be covered with cement and concrete down to the last centimetre, leaving no space for water to percolate down to the trees’s roots. Do they know that this will surely kill the tree? Maybe that is what they secretly want. or maybe they are just plain ignorant. There are rules regarding building around trees in our public spaces, but I doubt if anyone is reading them.
Is this how we look after our trees? Have we not learned a single lesson? After the floods, after Vardah? Why are we so bent on destroying our city, our home?
Everyone calls Chennai a resilient city, but we are really pushing its limits.