“A tree committee comprising experts, policy-makers, NGOs is needed for pragmatic planning”

The city's green cover may show promise if we are to take into account the tree planting drive being taken up by various government and non-governmental organisations. But, Chennai has a long way to go.

According to a senior forest official, an urban area should have 10 per cent green cover. The green cover in the city based on satellite imaging is roughly estimated to be around 4.5 to 5 per cent, although that cannot be taken as final.

There is no authentic information of the city's tree cover brought out by the Chennai Corporation, the Forest Department or NGOs. A tree census is being planned by the Forest Department for the first time in the city and it might offer some startling figures on the tree density.

Green drive

With this season ideal for planting saplings, many organisations have announced their contribution to improve the greenery. The Chennai Corporation, for instance, recently announced that after the northeast monsoon, it would plant 40,000 saplings with the help of a voluntary organisation. The Chennai Metro Rail Limited has asked the Corporation to identify locations for planting 17,000 saplings.

NGOs working to improve the green cover say such numbers will speak only if the saplings are monitored well. In the last few years, the civic body has set itself a target of planting around 10,000 saplings every year but only 8,000 are planted. However, 30 per cent of these saplings do not survive after a year.

Massive tree planting drives point to a good trend as it is the only known mechanism for environmental conservation and compensation for the infrastructural projects started in the name of development, but it's after care which is the key.

“The whole area [which has been denuded] should be saturated with trees. One year old seedlings should be planted and must be provided adequate care for three years. Planting is easier but maintenance is the difficult part. What is needed is a long term vision and even people should be made more aware of planting, maintaining and care of trees,” says C.K. Sreedharan, head of Forest Force and former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest.

Sensitive greening

Factors such as the kind of plants suitable for the city, the right species for a particular road and saplings that will withstand the onslaught of wind during cyclones should be considered while initiating a planting drive, he adds.

“Tree species recommended for planting along avenues are: Indian Laburnum, Neem, Indian Medlar, Persian Lilac, Purple Bauhinia, Portia Tree, Alexandrian Laurel, Mahogony, False Fern Tree, Arjun Tree, Pride of India, Tree of Life, Sausage Tree and Indian Almond,” says Pauline Deborah R., Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Biology and Plant Biotechnology, Women's Christian College.

“Tabebuia species, Gulmohar and copper pod should be avoided because they produce shallow roots, would get uprooted easily and are exotic species.”

Experts say the Corporation should know of the trees that fall during the monsoon and avoid planting the same species again. “A survey should also be done just prior to the onset of monsoon on the trees that are likely to uproot and efforts should be made to remove them,” says Ms. Deborah, adding that it is effective to plant at the place where trees got uprooted.

Organisation such as Anandham Youth Foundation, Nizhal, Indian Telugu Association, Chennai Social Service, Tree Bank, Isha Foundation, to name a few, have some or the other plans to improve the green cover this season, but they say community and corporate sponsorship is needed to increase the green cover.

A tree committee comprising experts, policy-makers, NGOs is needed for a pragmatic planning, procuring and planting of tree saplings, they add.

(With inputs from Liffy Thomas, R. Sujatha and Aloysius Xavier Lopez)

What they say

C.K. Sreedharan, head of Forest Force and former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest:

The city can boast of only about six per cent green cover. Even this green cover is due to institutions such as IIT-Madras and Guindy National Park. The Chennai Corporation plants around 10,000 to 15,000 seedlings every year but we require more commitment and larger allocation of funds. We must raise not less than five lakh seedlings and this requires a good amount of sponsorship. Places such as Bangalore and Hyderabad have a 10-year programme and raise around 10 lakh seedlings. Not just the Corporation but also the Highways Department and the Railways should understand the need and importance of greenery.

G. Mullaivanam, founder, Tree Bank:

The Corporation and other private organisations undertake massive tree planting drives but there is very little importance given to nurture these plants. That is where non governmental organisations like ours make the difference. We ensure the sapling is planted at the right place and the tree is suitable for the area. Our volunteers visit the homes of those who have taken saplings from us to ensure proper after care is given.