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Victory for the Banyans!

NGT orders EIA to assess risk of cutting Chevella Banyans

The Tribunal chastises NHAI for not innovating and reminds them of ‘the growing awareness to balance road expansion and environment conservation.'

Hyderabad, November 7, 2023: The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its judgment yesterday has directed the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the express purpose of minimizing cutting of trees before proceeding further with the road expansion. The Tribunal drew special attention to the nearly 1000 rare, century-old Banyans and thousands of other trees in the Chevella region.

The tribunal noted that NHAI had repeatedly failed—right from the initial assessment to the recent expert committee—to look for alternatives or come up with innovative solutions to protect the Chevella Banyans. In fact, they had refused to even consider clusters of Banyans and re-align the road or by-pass the trees to protect more of them. Ultimately, NHAI ‘ought to have analyzed rigourously all reasonable alternatives’.

Quoting from a range of case law, both Indian and international, the Tribunal has emphasized the ‘sense of urgency’ around protecting the environment. It has urged NHAI to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of cutting trees. In the judgment, the tribunal goes on to list the various benefits of roadside trees in general, and the Banyan in particular. In fact, the judgment opens with a beautiful Tamil verse by the 16th century Pandian ruler from Tenkasi, Ativirarama Pandian:

"The tiny seed of a mighty Banyan Tree is smaller than the egg of the smallest fish, when grown, it is large enough to offer shade to the entire battalion of the King viz., Elephants, Chariots, Cavalry and Infantry."

The NGT has also directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue terms of reference to complete an EIA within four months.

The Save Chevella Banyans campaign, and the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad are delighted with the tribunal’s path-breaking judgment. It injects hope into the various citizen groups and concerned individuals like us who are struggling to save trees from wanton destruction.

Please read the whole judgement here