What is happening to the Chevella Banyans in 2020? Some FAQs

What’s happening to the Chevella Banyans again?
Last year, March-April 2019, we had campaigned to save over a thousand stately Banyan trees on the Hyderabad-Chevella-Bijapur highway from a road-widening project – and succeeded. A couple of weeks ago, newspaper reports noted that many trees have been set on fire, destroyed and cleared away. In the middle of the lockdown.

Is this true? What’s the damage?
Unfortunately, it is true. We have counted over 100 trees with various degrees of fire damage – many have been completely cleared away.

What needs to be done now?

We have petitioned the Forest department to take action. These acts of destruction stop when enough attention is turned towards them. We also have a new public petition going - we need your support in getting the word out.

Tell me again why we can’t translocate all the trees to safety?
That stretch has 9000 trees, of which there are about 1000 Banyans that are old enough to be called heritage trees. Since they have large canopies and are ecosystems unto themselves, they should not be translocated. Besides, there is no public plan for citizens to understand what translocation involves – only vague promises.

We have discussed why we are skeptical of translocation claims elsewhere. We have only ever seen individual cases of successful translocation. Ficus trees are hardy and amenable to such interventions. However, there is no reliable, published data on survival rates of mass translocations in India – it is just as easy to point to horrible failures as to successes. No translocating agency is willing to even record their translocation data and share it publicly.

What should translocation agencies do to convince you otherwise?
Publish their data. Make it available for scrutiny. We have put together a draft protocol that these agencies can use to show why translocating trees is a viable ecological strategy. If there is data, then we don’t need to debate this.

Ok, so what are the next steps?
Sign our petition. Spread the word. Spend some time in the company of trees (keeping COVID-19 precautions in mind). Educate yourselves on what the Forest departments and environment ministry are not doing to protect our green heritage.

Help people understand this simple truth:
No amount of new tree planting and translocation is going to help us in the immediate future of poor air quality and severe water scarcity. We must save our old heritage trees for all the benefits they give us. We are only destroying our own well-being when we burn these trees.