The cutting of a wild jack in PTP Nagar and the marking of 46 trees in the same stretch has invited the wrath of environmentalists.

Several men and women stand around the remains of chopped tree in a road in daylightTree Walk members place wreath on the remains of the tree
news Environment Saturday, June 18, 2022 - 15:41

Up a steep slope in a quiet residential area of Thiruvananthapuram, a large wild jack got axed on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 15. At 3 pm that day, calls went to a group of environmentalists who have always raised their voice against the hurting of trees and unnecessary felling. By the time they made calls to the agencies responsible to keep the trees safe, and reached the spot – a road flanked by greenery in PTP Nagar – there was little left of the aanjili tree (Malayalam for wild jack). They left a wreath, said goodbye, and hoped that all these gestures would invite the attention of the authorities.

“We did this because big trees of a particular age and growth – like the aanjili – are very crucial for the city. In the time of climate change, heat rise and all, large trees are what absorb maximum carbon and they are very essential to bring down the temperature of the city and make it more livable for us and future generations. Losing a big tree is like losing a heritage property. We thought we need an event to say goodbye to this tree, like it is the death of a loved person, honouring all the services it has done to all the living beings,” says Anitha Santhi, co-founder of Tree Walk, an organisation that has been fighting for trees for years, and bringing awareness to the younger generation on the importance of keeping the city green.

As many as 46 trees are marked in red on the same stretch and the Tree Walk members fear that the same fate will befall on all of them. The aanjili was cut down for road development, said the authorities Anita reached out to. Ganesan, the Social Forestry officer under whose range the area falls, told TNM that the tree was cut down as part of a road widening scheme by the Public Works Department (PWD). “All the trees marked in the stretch will not be cut, only the ones which can’t be saved will be cut. And that will be done only after the tree committee examines the trees and gives its permission,” Ganesan says.

 

 

The tree committee was formed in 2017, replacing the Tree Protection Committee formed in 2010 during the time of the VS Achuthanandan government. The committee formed under the aegis of the Social Forestry department, is helmed by the head of the local body. In Thiruvananthapuram, Mayor Arya Rajendran is the chairperson of the committee, which will also contain in its panel, village officer and forest range officer. Environmentalists have criticised the functioning of the tree committee before, saying that it will weaken the purpose of the TPC, and give more powers to the PWD and Road Fund Board in taking a call to chop down trees.

VK Prasanth, MLA of the region that PTP Nagar falls under, told TNM the aanjili was cut down as part of re-tarring the road on both sides and the tree committee had given the permission for it. “There is no need to cut down all the 46 trees that are marked on the stretch. This is a project by the PWD and I understand that the tree committee had given permission, after the Social Forestry Department made the checks. About 15 trees are expected to be cut down in the area for road development,” he says.

But, Anitha asks, what is the need for road development in the residential area where there is hardly any traffic. “After plaavu (jackfruit tree), aanjili is one of the most abundantly seen trees in Kerala. Aanjili trees are disappearing all over the state because of rubber plantations and mono culture,” says Anitha, who feels such trees in a city should be considered heritage. The event to mark the death of the tree is also to raise a few questions, she says. “Procedurally, the request to cut the tree should be made before the Social Forestry Department, after which the tree committee members should examine the spot and then decide if they should give permission. We don’t know if any of this happened and want to understand who we should ask,” Anitha adds.


The green-edged stretch in PTP Nagar where several trees are marked for cutting

Thiruvananthapuram has a  history of environmentalists coming out to save trees, putting themselves in front of the ‘green friends’ to protect them. Sugathakumari, late poet and environmentalist, had famously stood in front of a tree in Sasthamangalam of Thiruvananthapuram, forming a circle with other green lovers, in an attempt to prevent its cutting. This was in 2010, and Benoy Viswam, the state forest minister of the time, had stood alongside her, and fondly recalled how the aged poet gave little regard to her own health while trying to save the tree.

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