Trees of life: At the mercy of the axe?

6 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Tissa Jayaweera

Tree planting year has been declared. Many Prime Ministers, Presidents have done so. It is an ambition of country to increase the current forest cover by 3%. On an average, the country loses forest cover of large trees felled and forests set fire by unscrupulous elements who have no value for the country, its eco system or are educated insufficiently to know the value of trees and forests. Most of the time human destroyers are protected by political patronage as most politicians fall into the illiterate category. Their only objective to make money by hook or crook. Trees that have diameter of 2 – 3 feet are seen being transported in the night under the watchful eyes of the authorities.

What is sad to note is that under to guise of development, trees which are several years old are being felled by contractors such as Road Development Authority (RDA), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), Municipal Councils, Provincial Councils, Town Councils etc. Each fully grown tree; 30 – 40 years old brought down, is a life lost!

In well-planned cities, trees are planted as part of the development process. This was seen in the rehabilitation of Galle Road and some other roads constructed in the recent past.

It is seen even in India, when Delhi was developed to host the Commonwealth Games, large trees on side of road were saved. The shanties along the road were demolished and the new road built to have the trees on the centre of the road. The same is seen in Bangalore too.

In the West, root-balled large trees are planted at new development sites when the project was commissioned to enable the trees to be rooted and look natural. A few days ago, I saw the similar happen in the UAE. Turning the desert into greenery through forest belts is taking place rapidly, as the rulers started to realized water and trees are as important to mankind as crude and gas.

In our country, expansion of roads or even drawing of new power Lines/Telecom Lines, the first action taken is felling trees planted by the British by the roadside. I felt very sad during my recent visit to a remote area, large trees were being to cut to draw power lines. If they had moved the power line 15 - 20 metres further, the majestic trees, which were presumably over 60 years old, could have easily been saved. Have new trees been planted by the CEB, RDA or any other authorities to replace the once lost?  No, never! How sad the situation is? I wonder where the one million trees in this year of reforestation is being done. Do we have plant nurseries that could issue root-balled trees that have sufficient height to be planted in a forest? Or the officials remove the existing trees and replant them and accounting them as reforestation? Once planted, who takes care of them till they root?

What prompted me to write today is, that Dean’s Road is being rehabilitated by CMC. Good progress indeed. Parking bays are being widened. There were two Kottang trees on the road opposite Mariyakade market planted in the 1980s, when President Premadasa started a programme to plant shade trees along the roads. These were a few Kottang trees that had survived the destruction of the current planners. These two trees have been cut to expand parking. If correct planning was done by the designers, engineers; parking bays could have been provided saving these valuable trees. 

What is sadder to note is that no provision is made for planting trees on this road as done on the Galle Rd, Vauxhall Street and other newly-rehabilitated roads. Baseline Road does not have a single tree along the road, all the way from Kelaniya Bridge to Havelock Road.

In Japan and South Korea, special attention is given to save trees from winter. In summer, I have seen trees being watered and leaves being washed to remove the dust and make them breathe smoother. 

We are talking of Mega Development of Western Province. Have we ever thought of the greenery? Western Province is slowly, but steadily converting itself into another concrete jungle! 
 
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