The city’s trees are giving way to metro rail as about 385 trees will be felled for the on-going construction.

Seventy eight trees from the stretch between Washermanpet station and Chennai Airport and 307 from Chennai Fort to St. Thomas Mount are being felled. But the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) claims to have planted over 15,000 saplings and trees last year.

“Not just saplings, we have planted trees after they reached primary growth. But most of the planting has been done in the outskirts of the city in many schools, colleges and even in Puzhal,” said an official of CMRL. The transplantation of trees within their habitat has been carried out only for the rare species, he said.

However, saplings can never replicate the benefits of beautiful mature trees in the heart of the city, say environmental activists. “The survival rate of saplings is very poor and the mortality rate is also high. Of late, tree planting has been turned into a romantic activity. Everyone washes their hands off after planting and there is no mechanism to check their growth. Even gulmohar trees, known to be quite fast in their growth, take about ten years to reach a reasonable size,” said V. Arun, a conservationist and tree expert.

Trees like neem, banyan, and tamarind are the ones that are being felled in larger numbers for the project. Despite their slow growth, they contribute greatly to their habitat. Thus, destroying them harms the mini-ecosystem itself, he added.

According to a report by RITES Ltd., a Government of India enterprise, the loss of 385 trees means that around 18,865 kg of oxygen will be reduced, an amount that will be needed for 104 people in a year’s time.

“Most of the trees felled are almost as old as 50. Trying to replace them with saplings does not compensate for the loss incurred. If there was any impact assessment done for this project, it has to be shared with the public,” said Shweta Narayan, an environmental activist.

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