Recently, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court gave a rather strange order to the state government: that the government should work towards the complete eradication of a particular kind of tree, the Karuvelam tree. Why is the HC asking the government to destroy thousands of trees?
The Karuvelam tree, or prosopis juliflora as its known biologically, is a species native to West Africa and was brought to Tamil Nadu in 1960s as fuelwood. Slowly, these seeds started drifting into dams and rivers, causing problems. Apparently, the plant is such that no other species can co-exist with it, and it has already caused drying up of several water bodies in the state, adding to the woes of the water-starved state.
The Karuvelam species is a biological nightmare. According to a report by the Rathinam Saroja Trust, an NGO which works for environmental issues, Karuvelam tree absorbs more than four litres of water to obtain one kilogram of biomass. It cannot even shelter birds as it produces less oxygen and more carbon dioxide. If it does not have sufficient water it begins absorbing groundwater. And if there is no groundwater, it starts absorbing humidity from the surroundings. It can also turn the groundwater poisonous.
The report also states that Karuvelam seeds have been making inroads into government land which includes irrigation tanks. The solution the report provides is that it should be uprooted instead of being cut or cleared. If it is cut, these trees have the tendency to grow back faster.
The issue was brought to the attention of the court by MDMK leader Vaiko, who filed a PIL in September 2015 for eradicating Karuvelam.
The Madurai Bench has however said that the livelihood of people in southern districts must be considered before eradicating the Karuvelam trees.
‚ÄúThe people from these dry regions depend on selling Seemai Karuvelam as fuel for their livelihood. One needs to consider providing alternative livelihood for people before deciding on removing the trees completely,‚ÄĚ observed a Division Bench comprising justices R Sudhakar and V M Velumani.
In 2013, about 10,000 Karuvelam trees in Madurai were found to be the major reason for water scarcity and depletion of ground water level in the city. The Madurai municipal corporation banned cultivation of Karuvelam on the lands. They had also warned that if the owners do not uproot them then the cost of the uprooting work will be taken from the land owners, apart from having to pay a penalty.
Karuvelam trees are present in Madurai, Dindigul, Theni, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, and Kanyakumari districts in Tamil Nadu. The cost to remove all Karuvelam trees is pegged at Rs 1,500 crore, according to The Times of India report.
A.R. Shanmugam, President, Salem District Agricultural Production Committee told The Hindu that they have decided to employ the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme workers to help uproot these trees.
The agriculture department has already eradicated the ‚ÄėKaruvelam‚Äô weed in the government seed farms in the Salem district.
In August 2015, the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court also asked the state government to form a committee including the Chief Secretary, Forest Department and Public Works Department secretaries, to structure a plan for the eradication of Karuvelam trees grown on river beds and other areas in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.