Infrastructure development could be a blessing to our daily lives, but places a burden on nature. The road-widening project along the Chevella-Hyderabad Road in the Vikarabad district of Telangana, for example, is part of the Union government's infrastructure development plan. However, it poses a grave threat to the age-old green cover comprising hundreds of banyan and other trees.
The National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) is set 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 intensified their campaign, demanding the authorities to replan the road expansion project, which is estimated to affect 9,000 trees.
According to members of the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad, which consists of city-based environmentalists, cyclists, birdwatchers and heritage conservationists, there are over 1,000 banyan trees along the stretch, of which hundreds were planted during the Nizam period. They also alleged that the current project plan violates the guidelines for laying the highways, which have been formulated to prevent disturbing the immediate environment, including natural tanks, streams, trees and species zones.
The Nature Lovers of Hyderabad have once again ramped up their 2019 petition on Change.org, urging Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and other departments to intervene and preserve the biodiversity of the region. â€śIn 2019, 38,000 of you supported this petition to save 1000+ Banyans of Chevella on National highway (NH)-163 from the cutterâ€™s axe. Now those Chevella Banyans, your 1000 banyans on NH-163, are in imminent danger once again. And this time itâ€™s urgent,â€ť it read.
The petition, which has received more than 46,500 signatures so far, demanded officials to replan the project to save the best stretches with large, mature banyans. They urged the government to â€śtotally bypassâ€ť the areas where the banyans are most well-grown and at their most mature, as translocation is not an option for large, mature trees. â€śEarlier attempts have shown that such trees have a poor chance of survival. It would also destroy the biodiversity these trees sustain,â€ť they said.
The group has also demanded the stretch of the highway till Vikarabad be named the Telangana Biodiversity Heritage Road. The stretch includes reserve forests and scrub habitats at Mudimyal and Kandlapally (abutting NH-163), housing a variety of wildlife animals.
The Nature Lovers of Hyderabad is also leading the Save Banyans of Chevella campaign on Twitter, which started in 2019. Earlier this month, members of the Save Banyans of Chevella campaign celebrated Deepavali under the banyan trees, where they recited poems and spoke about the large-scale impact of axing the trees. They also exhibited paintings and posters about the banyan trees.
Over 200 people gathered to celebrate Deepavali with the Banyans of Chevella. They tied threads of protection around the Banyans and took a pledge to protect the planet and these magnificent trees. pic.twitter.com/vCmheqKV98â€” Save Banyans of Chevella (@chevellabanyans) October 31, 2021
According to Sadhana Ramchander, a city-based environmentalist who is part of Nature Lovers of Hyderabad, the Hyderabad-Chevella stretch is the only highway near Hyderabad accommodating such a large number of trees in the vicinity. "We have written to the state government authorities and Union governments, including the Forest Ministry, but there has been no proper response yet. We are looking forward to alternative measures, including reaching out to the courts to save banyan trees," she told TNM.
â€śThe NHAI should reconsider its plans and design. If they go ahead without addressing the environmental concerns, the project will damage the environmental balance and may contribute to the existing climate change impact."