Over 100 plants, including 20-30 rare species of trees, shrubs and other medicinal plants were razed to the ground with an earthmover by Public Work Department officials on Tuesday at Kotturpuram Tree Park in Chennai’s Kotturpuram area. The incident took place much to the dismay of those who have been maintaining the park (an NGO by the name Nizhal) and the public which frequents it. After objections were raised, the PWD officials have briefly stalled their operations.
Some of the rare species that have now been uprooted include Kokottai (Garcinia spicata), Kumizh (Gmelina arborea), Azhinji (Alangium salvifolium), Asoka (Saraca asoca), Vennangu (Pterospermum canescens), Suryagada (Suregada augustifolia), Kalvirasu (Ehretia laevis) and Uvamaram (Dillenia indica).
On Thursday morning, officials from the PWD visited the damaged area and promised to clear the broken roots and branches, salvage whatever possible, fix the fencing and replant the area. A list of saplings will be provided by Nizhal which will then be procured from Auroville and Thiruvannamalai by PWD contract workers and then replanted.
Speaking to TNM about the incident, Shobha, the founder of Nizhal, said, “I was not in town on Tuesday when it happened. One of our gardeners, who usually works on the other end of the park, alerted the team later that day that some trees were being razed. When we tried to reach the PWD department on Wednesday morning, there was no immediate response.”
The PWD officials on site, however, call it an "accident" caused due to oversight and quickly promised to fix the area. “This is part of the ongoing work done by Chennai River Restoration Trust. We are removing encroachments, desilting the river, plugging sewage inlets and strengthening the bund along the Adyar River. Close to eight departments including Chennai Corporation, Metro Water Department, Town Panchayats are involved and work began around the month of September. The Adyar River is one of the most important flood channels and it needs to be restored if we want to avoid the devastation of the 2015 floods,” explains an official from the PWD Department.
Photo courtesy: Nizhal
Shobha is quick to point out that plants and trees are of great importance if the intent is to restore the river. “Don't they actually strengthen the bunds?” she asks.
The restoration project, jointly conducted by the Central and state governments, covers 42 kilometres of the Adyar River bank starting from Thiruneermalai to point zero where the Adyar River joins the sea.
The official adds, “This area is part of CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) and needs to be protected. We understand the efforts put in by Nizhal and also the love with which people have nurtured plants. All efforts will be made to restore the damaged area within two days.”
25 contract labourers will be employed to finish the task.
Before the year 2006, Kotturpuram Tree Park was a local dumpyard along the banks of the Adyar River. It was the PWD that partnered with Nizhal, an NGO formed in 2005 by plant lover and environmentalist Shobha Menon and her team, to clear the area and convert it into a sanctuary for trees and plants.
Kotturpuram Tree Park, spread over 3.6 acres, transformed into the park that it is today mainly due to the efforts of the NGO and citizen volunteers and later with help from Chennai Corporation. The park boasts of a number of trees and plants, frequented by deer, birds, butterflies and has an ecosystem of its own. While those who have spent many hours growing and maintaining the park are distraught because of the carelessness of the PWD, they are confident of replanting the area with the same spirit they displayed after Cyclone Vardah uprooted thousands of trees in Chennai and other coastal areas in Tamil Nadu.