.India’s greenest city to lose ‘dangerous’ trees

Chandigarh, Sep 27 (IANS) A number of the trees which had helped Chandigarh get a tag of greenest city of India have become ‘dangerous’.

A committee constituted by the administration of this Union Territory (UT) has identified nearly 650 locations where such trees exist. Many of these trees are older than the city. There are trees of around 300 species in Chandigarh.

Officials said many of the trees have turned into breeding grounds for insects and pathogens and have gone weak due to fungal and bacterial infestation. Some may topple over and fall on roads or crash into buildings.

UT finance-cum-environment secretary Sanjay Kumar said: ‘There are many dangerous trees in the city which are posing threat to the lives and property of the residents. All such dangerous trees have been identified after a thorough and detailed field work by the officials concerned.’

He added: ‘We were working for a long time to draft some solution to avoid any kind of destruction by dangerous trees in Chandigarh. Therefore, the officials of the Chandigarh forest department, along with the horticulture divisions of the Municipal Corporation and the engineering wing, have furnished a report on identification of dangerous trees.’

In their report, the officials have also suggested measures for upgrading, conserving or for removing the existing trees, whichever would be possible depending on the individual tree.

Chandigarh’s area is around 140 sq km with 114 sq km of land and 25.42 sq km being occupied by the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary in and around Sukhna Lake.

According to the forest survey of India’s latest report, Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, has a forest and tree cover of 35.7 percent of its total area. This is highest not only in India but also in Asia, claim officials.

According to the State Forest Report 2007, there has been an increase of about 14 sq km in the green cover of Chandigarh in the last eight years. In 2001, the green cover here was 36 sq km (26 percent) but now it is 49.98 sq km (35.7 percent), which exceeds the 33 percent target set by the national forest policy. The overall green cover in India is 23.5 percent.

Chandigarh is followed by Delhi, which has nearly 20 percent tree cover.

‘This committee was formed last month and it has recommended around 650 locations, including various government schools, residential areas and roads, where trees are posing threat to environment, to human life and to property,’ Ishwar Singh, chief wildlife warden and conservator of forests, Chandigarh, told IANS.

‘The report has also furnished tree-specific and location-specific recommendations about the treatment. Our objective is to identify dead, diseased, dying and undernourished trees in the city so that we can take preventive steps,’ said Singh.

Agriculturalist-bureaucrat M.S. Randhawa is credited with the large variety of trees that were planted when the city was in its infancy. The tree cover saved Chandigarh from becoming an all-concrete jungle, a fate that has overcome many Indian towns.

Singh stated: ‘Now the process for the prevention and conservation of the trees will be initiated ensuring that no damage to environment is done. If we remove one dead tree then we would plant over 10 saplings in the same area to compensate.’

Environmentalists and other experts are supporting the administration’s move, provided their activities produce no new threat to the ecosystem of the region.

‘There are many trees here that have become real danger for the motorists and environment. We support their move but they have to follow this exercise very professionally,’ R.K. Kohli, chairperson of the Botany department of Panjab University here, told IANS.

‘We want them to plant at least 15 trees for every tree they cut to maintain ecological balance. Many trees that are even older than Chandigarh can also come under the axe,’ pointed out Kohli, who has done extensive research on the trees of Chandigarh.

The city, the first planned one in independent India, came into being in the early 1950s through the design of renowned French architect Le Corbusier.

It was originally planned for 500,000 residents by Le Corbusier. It is now home to over one million people, including over 300,000 slum dwellers. It also has the maximum vehicle density in the country with over 700,000 registered vehicles here.

Talking about the conditions under which one is authorised to fell a tree, Kohli said: ‘According to law, they can cut trees in only three conditions. One if there is a fungal attack and it is causing soil poisoning, second if the tree is leaning over a building or can cause some road accident, third if it is creating an obstacle in the expansion or development of the city.’

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