A status report filed by the National Highways Authority of India, once again pitched for translocation of trees that dates back to the age of the last Nizam.

Trees on both sides of an empty road twitter/Lakshmi Prabhala
news Saturday, January 21, 2023 - 09:51

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), in its status report to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), has once again pitched for translocation of Chevella Banyans in order to widen National Highway 163. The Banyan trees of Chevella are considered to be one of the last stretches of road-lining banyans to survive intact in Telangana.

The report, a copy of which TNM has seen, says that on the basis of size,  90% of the Chevella Banyans “are only as good as any other tree” and that only few of the trees have big trunks and huge branches. The NHAI’s report is a clear attempt to play down the importance attached to these old and mature trees, some of them over a 100 years old.

The NHAI has been waiting to start the expansion of the 45-kilometre stretch of the National Highway NH-163 from two to four lanes. The stretch will connect Hyderabad and Manneguda. However, several environmentalists and nature lovers have been opposing the expansion which is estimated to affect nearly 9,000 trees, including 759 banyan trees along the route. Many of the banyan trees were planted during the last Nizam’s period, from 1911 to 1948.

According to environmentalists, the Hyderabad-Chevella stretch is one of the last stretches of road-lining banyans. It is the only highway near Hyderabad accommodating such a large number of trees. They believe keeping the Banyans intact would honour Hyderabad’s heritage.

The status report that was submitted by the NHAI to the NGT on January 6 termed the need for conversion of the existing two-lane highway into a four-lane one as ‘mandatory’. The NHAI has cited high vehicular traffic and accidents as reasons for the expansion. Those protesting against the cutting down of trees agree that the highway deserves to be expanded, but the bone of contention is over how the banyan trees along the route can be protected.

The NHAI has offered two alternatives to save the trees—the highway will be laid, wherever possible (eccentric widening - designing the road on either side of the trees) instead of concentric (widening equally from both the sides of the existing road). This will help save nearly 209 trees. Here, NHAI speaks about trees and not particularly about banyan trees. Another option offered is the translocation of trees. While two options have been offered, the NHAI feels that the “best option” available is to translocate trees.  

The NHAI also cited past experience of translocating trees including banyan trees that were located on the Hyderabad-Srisailam highway. NHAI report also says that even if the trees are not felled and left as it is they would eventually die owing to vibrations and sound pollution. “As far as the deleterious impact, ecological value, micro climate and creation of heat islands are concerned, there is no much impact in view of the mitigation measures taken up,” NHAI has said.

The NHAI has also mentioned that an environmental budget will be provided in order to mitigate any kind of loss due to the road expansion project. NHAI has dismissed the petitioner’s suggestion of re-aligning the road. They have also said that laying a parallel road would also not be possible because of the serpentine shape of the road. NHAI has also said that further acquisition of land is not possible due to legal issues.

The petitioners are now busy preparing their response to the status report submitted by the NHAI. Speaking to TNM, Tejah Balantrapu, a petitioner said, “The additional time we have received will be used to address specific aspects of the response.” It is learnt that besides several other points, the petitioners will strongly be taking on the argument of the NHAI that 90% of the Chevella Banyans are just as good as that of any other tree. 

The NGT which had scheduled a hearing for Friday, January 20, has postponed it to January 31. 

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