Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Sapling Grows Into a Giant; The Streets Around It Change, Too

I grew up in Madras. As was the case with numerous other places, even Madras had its places which had lots of trees. As the economy grew, more people made money, credit culture also took great shape, enticing millions of individuals all over the country to go for their personal transport which in turn lead to traffic jams finally resulting in authorities resorting to road widening projects. Madras also participated in this journey for personal vehicles. In short, we had more vehicles than what we could handle. Never mind if the trees were still healthy. Never mind if the trees gave a cool shade to the citizens all these years. The only way by which roads could be widened was by reducing the footpath and removing trees. There were also accidents due to trees. Heartlessly, our local administrations, over the years, have faithfully carried out the tasks of reducing footpaths and removing trees, though in the later case, they were ably aided by property developers, flat owners, owners of hoardings etc. The sufferers were those who had to walk around - in the absence of footpaths and in the absence of cool shades of the trees.

Once a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) resulted in the Madras High Court ordering a stay on the felling of trees along G. N. Chetty Road, North and South Usman Roads, C. P. Ramaswamy Road and TTK Road until an expert panel looked into the issues. Authorities are confronted with a decision making issue - save trees or widen the roads and ease the traffic. The easiest decision to take is to support the public, property developers etc. as at the end of the day, they are the people who are going to vote for politicians. See, we are a democracy where only people have voting rights. Trees don't vote! While PILs helped in saving some time, often the contractors who are given the job, are in great hurry and clear the trees before anyone could react. Transplantation could be tried out wherever possible, but it has not been successful, as it is not a statutory requirement. The easiest solution is cutting of trees, which our people have faithfully done, most of them under the cover of night. In the end, trees lost their lives and Madras lost its tree cover.

I was reminded of the lost trees of Madras when I read this article about a tree in New York Times. Some highlights from the article.

"...The tree, on Kane Street near Tompkins Place, became a giant, with branches that reach across Kane, roots that have torn apart the sidewalk, and a trunk wrapped in vines that leans into the street like an old man warning cars away. In recent weeks, though, residents who live appreciatively in the mulberry’s shade feared the tree faced a new threat: a city chain saw. Then, one morning in early June, Mark Melamed saw posted signs explaining that trees on the street were scheduled for trimming or removal. The family feared the worst. The Melameds’ 16-year-old daughter, Caroline, went to school that day “close to tears,” her mother, Helen Melamed, said. The mulberry’s branches scraped Caroline’s window, providing a leafy prism on the neighborhood. She anxiously called home from school to find out what had happened to the tree...."