In what is rightly being touted as a thoughtless move, thousands of trees on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur highway in Telangana —many of which are 30-50 years old — have been marked to be axed for road widening by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways at the Centre and Ministry of Roads and Buildings at the State level in Telangana.
Sadly, this is not the first time that this is happening. As state and national highways come up, the first task of road-widening crews is to clear the road of ancient trees with their wide girths and canopies.
In an attempt to protect our valuable natural heritage — especially old and mature banyans in this case — nearly 35,000 people have signed a petition launched by the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad urging the Telangana government to save more than 1,000 banyans and other trees.
“We were taken aback to see a few burnt banyan stumps when our team first went to Chevella on May 5. But on a more recent photo shoot dated May 18, we were shocked to find more trees had been burnt. Someone is slowly burning the banyans down,” says Sadhana Ramchander, one of the petitioners, who adds, “It is wonderful that our government has started Telangana ku Haritha Haram, which is a unique effort. But this endeavour should also include not cutting down old trees because they are irreplaceable.”
According to Global Forest Watch, India has lost more than 1,20,000 hectares of primary forests in the last five years alone. In all probability, we have also lost an equal amount of green cover to road-widening projects and related infrastructure development.
“Over the last five-seven years, there has been a blatantly greedy and bizarre rush to build, develop, change and most of it, utterly needless. We are losing our natural environment and now even our heritage trees, all in the name of progress and development!” says another petitioner Anand Vishwanadha, also a member of Nature Lovers of Hyderabad.
A group comprising about 130 members, Nature Lovers of Hyderabad mainly go for tree walks to understand and rejoice in the beauty of trees and birds. However, seeing the gloomy and shocking scenario of the banyans of Chevella, they decided to file a petition in a desperate attempt to save them.
Interestingly, as per the TS Water, Land and Trees Act, many tree species commonly seen along roads do not need the Forest Department’s permission to be chopped down. Instead, self-certification has been introduced to enable ease of business.
“Trees are our natural heritage, green cover, and ecological home to hundreds of species. They grace our roads and civilise us, not the other way around. Development should be protecting these glorious mature banyans, not mindlessly and heartlessly cutting them down,” argues Dr Sita Reddy, another petitioner.
“Construction of a typical NH takes three-four years and costs thousands of crores. But we have asked the Ministry and the National Highways Authority of India to give the entire road heritage status, and leave it as it is, in all its grandeur. In doing so, the Government of Telangana will set an example to the rest of India,” say members of Nature Lovers of Hyderabad.
Pradip Krishen, filmmaker, environmentalist and pauthor of Trees of Delhi and Jungle Trees of Central India adds, “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.”
“The old banyans and other trees support a multitude of bird species, from White Browed Fantail Flycatchers to Indian Spotted Eagles. We must start valuing the old trees and take steps to preserve them,” says Pranay Juvvadi, petitioner and member of Nature Lovers of Hyderabad.