We hear all the time that it takes only minutes to destroy what takes years to grow. Just recently, we saw hundreds of trees disappear from the Omandurar Estate to make way for a new secretariat building

St Mary’s Road has always been known as an avenue of beautiful trees, some of which are nearly a century old. Recently, there has been frenetic digging on this road to lay stormwater drains. In the process, two large rain trees were cut down. As the Corporation set its saws to work — the ‘muhurtam’ for the ‘auspicious’ task was around 1 am and 4 am on two separate days of the week — residents rushed to the site on both occasions and appealed against bringing down the trees.

The Corporation officials at the site were in no mood to hear their pleas. They told them this was being done on the civic body’s orders. The reasons they gave: one tree was an obstruction to stormwater works; the other was growing at an angle that was a threat to vehicular and pedestrian safety.

As a resident of St. Mary’s Road, I was attached to those trees. Their stature, acquired over half a century, or more perhaps, was awe-inspiring. In summer, we enjoyed their shade and their pink spiky flowers; in the rains, we revelled in the beauty of the freshly washed green leaves. And one morning, I woke up to find them gone. I am yet to get over the loss.

We hear all the time that it takes only minutes to destroy what takes years to grow. Just recently, we saw hundreds of trees disappear from the Omandurar Estate to make way for a new secretariat building that is now a white — or rather, a grey — elephant. Shouldn’t trees that make way for “development” be uprooted and replanted elsewhere? We on St. Mary’s Road would have still mourned the disappearance of our trees but could have taken comfort in the fact that they are alive and well, and someone else is enjoying their beauty and shade.

Enquiries about planting saplings that will one day grow up to replace our lost trees have entangled us in Corporation red tape. All responsible citizens understand that sometimes trees have to make way in the interests of safety or urban growth. Many areas of Chennai are dug up at the moment; the city is a vision in mud and dust.

Digging for the Metro Rail is the icing on the cake. But we are patient and believe, despite our worst fears, that in a few months, all this will be over, new drains would have been installed, we will have shiny new underground trains and the city will never again get flooded during the rains. But what my neighbours and I resent is the fact that none of the people in the vicinity were consulted before the Corporation executed — yes, that’s the word — its decision about the trees.

Perhaps, part of the fault lies with us, the residents of St. Mary’s Road, for not being as demonstrative in our affection for the trees as the people in Besant Nagar. But, if the Corporation wants to encourage citizens to be involved in the upkeep of the city, in making Chennai a modern, clean and organised metropolis, it must take residents into confidence before implementing dramatic decisions.

(The author is a Carnatic vocalist)

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