Missing/damaged/obliterated banyans as of end May 2023

In June 2022, the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad documented and geotagged all the Chevella road Banyan trees, which were in danger of being felled because of the proposed widening of NH-163. We geotagged 914 banyan trees between Appa Junction and Manneguda, of which three had been recently felled. On June 29, 2022, 911 road-lining Banyan trees were standing and, in addition to the lat-long coordinates and (at least) two photographs each, we collated data on the approximate girth, the presence or absence of prop roots, evidence of chopped branches and nature of burns (if any). The resulting database was meant to serve as a precise record against which we could monitor the health and safety of the Banyans.

In February 2023, we came to know that a banyan tree had been felled, and our investigations showed that Banyan No. 459 had indeed been chopped down. In May 2023, we heard of a few trees being set on fire, and of at least one tree falling down because of the burns. We therefore decided to do a recount of the banyans to ascertain the exact status. This recount was done on May 26, 2023.

While initially, we had planned to walk down the entire stretch and mark every tree against the geotag map, we found this was an extremely time consuming process which would have taken several days to accomplish. And so we replaced it with a slightly simpler process. We drove past the banyans at very slow speed, tracking the route on the map. When we approached a banyan whose location was on the map, we called that out by number, and after verifying that it was still standing, we ticked it off on a physical database. Where we could not find a tree, we got out of the car and investigated.

During the process, we found that three trees were missing. Banyan 258, Banyan 459 and Banyan 894. One other tree (Banyan 259) had almost completely dried up, the desiccated leaves still hanging on to its branches, and the chances of recovery seemed slim. We noted extensive burns on the trunks of several trees, and many others were badly hacked. However, we did not focus on these trees in this exercise.

 The summary of destroyed or obliterated trees as of May 26 2023 is as follows:

1.       1. Banyan 258- OBLITERATED

Geotagged by Sadhana Ramchander and Sarvesh Prabhu on June 15, 2022, the tree was described as “Very badly damaged trunk. Stunted canopy, cut entirely with little regrowth. Branches broken and damaged.”

Status on May 26, 2023: Canopy is completely gone. The stump is hollow and burnt very badly. For all practical purposes, the tree is dead.

Above: Banyan 258; below: the same tree as of May 2023 

1.               2. Banyan 459: OBLITERATED

Geotagged by Natasha Ramarathnam and Sita Reddy on June 19, 2022, the tree did not have any distinguishing features.

The tree was felled in February 2023, and the timber was carted away by trucks.

Above: Banyan 459 as of June 2022; centre: the same tree in Feb 2023; and below, in May 2023

1.               3. Banyan 894: OBLITERATED

Geotagged by Natasha Ramarathnam and Sita Reddy on June 29, 2022, the tree was described as “Burns at base have reduced the trunk to half, and it is a wonder the tree is still standing.”

The tree has subsequently toppled over.

Above left: Banyan 894 in June 2022; above right: It had already been burnt;
below: obliterated as of May 2023 

1.       4. Banyan 259: In Danger

Originally geotagged by Sadhana Ramchander and Sarvesh Prabhu on June 15, 2022, the tree was described as “Stunted, lopped canopy, badly damaged.  Branches broken and damaged.”

The tree is still standing, but all the leaves are brown, and it is unlikely that the tree will recover. There was evidence of burns at the base.

Above: Banyan 259 as of June 2022 and below: the same tree in May 2023

Many trunks showed evidence of burns, and there was evidence to suggest these fires were deliberately set by human beings. Wherever there is extensive damage to the trunk, there is a danger of the trees falling over. For lack of sufficient time, these burns have not been documented.

To conclude... 

Three trees have disappeared since June 2022, and each loss can be traced to human intervention. Better patrolling is needed on the highway to ensure that fires are put out before they can do much damage.