PWD engineers prove that trees need not become casualties of development project

Trees, even those that are generations old, are the first casualty when works relating to widening of roads, construction of new buildings or strengthening of river bunds and lake beds are taken up.

Even the good old palm tree, the official tree of the State, is seldom spared as the axe falls on trees in the name of development.

But now the Public Works Department (PWD) engineers in the Coimbatore region are desperately trying to reverse the unhealthy trend. They have set an example by saving an estimated 5,300 palm trees while implementing the Integrated Agriculture Modernisation and Water-Bodies and Restoration Management (IAM WARM), a World Bank Project.

The project aims to improve productivity through efficient integrated water resources management.

Under this project, 90 irrigation tanks in Palani and Dindigul were taken up. The main works included widening and strengthening of bunds and repair of sluices and weirs. The work is nearing completion, but the palm trees all along the stretch remain intact, standing tall and majestic.

“Normally when developmental works are implemented, trees are cut to facilitate the execution of work. But this time, the PWD Minister and a team of top engineers ensured that we spared the good old palm trees,” said R. Elangovan, Executive Engineer of the department.

In the case of IAMWARM, the World Bank was also particular about saving the trees. Palm tree, the official tree of Tamil Nadu, is under great threat as planting of saplings is no longer done. While sanctioning projects, the World Bank insists that all trees that have a girth of more than 30 cm should be saved.

Palmyra or Panai Maram is the most hardy of tree species and can survive many years passing on its benefits to generations.

Capable of withstanding even severe drought conditions, it provides nourishments in the form of its fruits, juice and even the root of the young plant (panam kizhangu). Its role in protecting biodiversity is also crucial. Seven types of birds including weaver bird and myna nest in the tree. The holes in the dead trees are normally occupied by Parrots and Blue Jay.

“Earlier, we viewed projects from the point of view of engineers. Now we realise development should not be at the cost of environment. Saving over five thousand palm trees, we hope, will set an example for sustainable development,” Mr Elangovan said.