Translocation costs!

One of the first steps for most Indian development and road-widening projects is to routinely
mark beautiful old trees for the axe. Massive tree-felling, especially in urban areas, has led to
growing public criticism and resistance. Instead of rethinking projects, translocation of trees is
being pushed as a technological quick-fix and a win-win post-hoc solution. However, with
mature trees, as in Chevella, translocation is as disastrous as cutting. Here’s a ready-reckoner.

Proof: Pudding-Eating. Reliable data on tree translocation are very hard to find. Most numbers
are shared by organisations doing the translocation—but not as reports with details that others
can verify. So, it is hard to independently verify claims of translocation success rates. No agency
monitors translocations or maintains a public database. This adds to the lack of transparency;
such trees are, after all, public treasures and their survival rates should be in the public record.

Permit Raj. Who owns trees on public lands? The National Highways Authority of India
(NHAI) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests own our lands and the trees on them in
public trust. They are our heritage; states are their custodians. What is the procedure for
translocating such trees to private lands? How are contracts issued to private corporations that
fund the translocation? Who monitors the ‘gifting’ of individual trees to interested private
beneficiaries? Permissions to ponder over.

Process, process, process. Mature trees need a long process of preparation before moving—
one report suggests 12 months for the entire process. In Hyderabad, these decisions are made in
weeks, if not days. What is an acceptable cost per tree? What kind of experts should be involved
in the translocation? A good team needs engineers, botanists, ecologists and others. Ditto with
the subsequent care regimen post-translocation. But we have neither an established, wellaccepted
process for translocation nor careful follow up in Hyderabad/India.

Land, Ahoy! Where do you plant these translocated trees? Soil matters. Ficus trees are hardy
and can survive in most environments, but mature trees have already sunk in their roots, so to
speak. Finding the right soil is just as important as the right donor.

Size Matters too. When tree-girth is more than 1 foot, translocation is rarely successful. Nor is
it easy. Chopping branches and roots means a tree will rarely, if ever, recuperate. Transportation
is another prickly problem. We do jugaad – please adjust. We simply do not have the resources.

Keystone. Banyans, and other Ficus trees, are keystone species. They nestle in and sustain a
biome that is home to many fauna and microbes. Especially so in agrarian landscapes like in rural
Chevella where they are the only large, standing trees. Tree felling or translocation destroys these
teeming ecosystems as well as the environmental benefits they provide. Free pest-control

Climate Change. Look at the news: evaporating water tables, soaring temperatures, vanishing
green cover, changing climate. This is the time to preserve and protect, not techno-fix and
destroy. The Chevella Banyans present an opportunity for a new approach. Let’s grab it with
both hands.

Translocation may indeed work in very limited contexts. Without good data, it is impossible to
know. To our translocating conservators, this is our message: If you translocate trees, you can
save a handful (maybe); if you publish that data, you will save a million (for sure)!