75 trees along TN's Girivalam path dead: Were they poisoned?

The trees were healthy two weeks ago, but have rapidly deteriorated; activists suspect that they were injected with acid.
75 trees along TN's Girivalam path dead: Were they poisoned?
75 trees along TN's Girivalam path dead: Were they poisoned?

Barren trees with portions of their darkened bark peeling off – this is the state of over 70 trees along the 14-km Girivalam path around the Annamalai hills in Tiruvannamalai district. These trees which were healthy despite the sordid heat till two weeks ago are dying and environmentalists from the district suspect foul play.

Green activists in this region are not new to the fight to save trees along the Girivalam path. In 2016, they were up in arms against the Highways Department that wanted to fell trees to widen the path for pilgrims. An interim order from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), directing that not a single tree be cut came as relief to activists in December. A year later, another battle awaited them in the form of a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department order. The HR&CE Department, in a document dated February 27, 2017, ordered the axing of 545 naturally grown trees. 

This time around, however, environmentalists believe that it is local traders who are involved in the effort to get rid of the green cover. 

"Trees in a particular stretch of 2 km have been affected. We suspect that acid has been injected into them," says S Krishna Kumar, state president of Exnora's youth wing. "We have sent samples to a Chennai lab for testing and will know what exactly has happened in a couple of days.” 

But why was this done?

"Locals here have been trying to find space to put up shops along the path for years and are not able to because sides of the roads are covered by trees. So they are trying to get rid of them," he alleges.

Jayaprakash, an environmentalist from Tiruvannamalai, however, alleges that the locals are acting at the behest of the Highways Department. An allegation that the Department has vehemently denied. They claim that they do not have any projects planned for hill road, where the trees have been affected. But all the parties involved agree that the death of the trees is unnatural. 

The District Collector's office has told TNM that they are looking into the matter. Collector KS Kandasamy has reportedly ordered the Highways department to collect samples from the trees independently for scientific analysis to determine cause of death. 

Of the 75 trees allegedly affected, activists claim 56 are beyond help and 19 are deteriorating rapidly. 

"We are going to the NGT over this matter either way. We cannot afford to lose any more green cover in Tiruvannamalai," says Krishna Kumar. "The District Collector is cooperative, but the need to protect trees needs to be made clear."

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