Work on the Metro Rail Project will mean the city losing a substantial green cover. Plan is to replace it ten fold

City ‘greens’ can take heart. Planting before uprooting is the mantra the Kochi Metro Rail Project is to follow as it gets its civil works on track today. The rail that will help the city commute faster, better and cheaper will unfortunately, in its wake, mow down 477 trees that form an essential part of the city green cover.

But for every tree that the city stands to lose it is set to gain 10 trees. “1:10 is DMRC’s corporate strategy. It is part of their DNA. We are going to follow that,” says Elias George, MD Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL).

Green Metro

At the commencement ceremony of the project today at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kaloor, he has come up with a clear green signal about the intentions of giving the city a green Metro. “The expected 3,000-odd guests will each be handed over with a sapling, which they would ideally sow, this being planting season,” he says, adding that “greening the city” is a key condition placed by the funding agencies. The findings of the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report, a carbon footprint report and the Rehabilitation and Reassessment (R and R) plan are three initial studies that will ensure a green colour to the Metro Rail Project. An environmental officer will be deputed to oversee green issues.

Sr. PRO, DMRC, P. Narayanan, waves the green flag for Kochi Metro and says happily, “What we have done in Delhi, we will do in Kochi too. We will make it green. Besides the formula of planting 10 trees to one we also follow the concept of green stations. There will be 22 stations along the Metro rail.”

Land being critical to urban forestation, a KMRL spokesperson says, “We are scouting for land with less trees for casting yards (place for girders, machineries etc) so that felling is at a minimum.”

As city municipal commissioner in 1989, Elias George recalls a process where they had uprooted entire trees using cranes and replanted them in Wellingdon Island. He does not rule out such strategies if feasible.

Dr. C.M. Joy, Associate Professor, Botany, SH College Thevara, points out the gap in the green cover and the city’s growing pollution. He talks about a huge green deficit citing statistics of a mere 5,000 trees for a population of nine lakh as found by a tree census done three years ago jointly by a city college and the Corporation of Cochin. He says, “A tree selected for urban forestation programme must have less leaves, it must be tolerant to air pollution, it must not be large fruit yielding and its leaves should be closely packed. The ideal trees to be planted in Kerala are Ezhilampala (Alstonia Scholarius), Ungu (Pongania Glabera), Njaval (Syzygium Cumini) and the like. We have to replace trees at least two years before cutting them down. Besides we have to conserve the trees with tree guards.”

Prof S. Sitaraman, a member on government tree committees and who has worked with forest conservators says that the term ‘compensatory forestation’ is a meaningless affair. “How can a small tree compensate for a big tree, how can you remove your kidney and place it where your heart is,” he says on the issue of urban forestation.

The main concern of the city’s green warriors is of protecting and nurturing a sapling till it steadies itself. Former Chief Town Planner and the current president of Friends of Trees group, Panampilly Nagar, C.K.Thomas is not averse to the requirement of cutting down trees for development projects like the Metro Rail. But he is concerned about the process, “It has to be done scientifically. A tree requires constant pruning for the first few years so that it branches after a certain height. These things are to be strictly looked into for trees to survive.”

“A large tree creates and supports a habitat, an eco-system, which a new young tree cannot replicate,” says noted environmentalist C. R. Neelakandan. For him cutting trees and evicting families for development are the same as it is uprooting of an eco-system. The remedy he offers is of scouting for land with fewer trees and that the planting of trees should begin earlier, as soon as a development project is planned.

So as the Metro Rail readies to swish in, city ‘greens’ hope that it will bring in a lush greener cover for the city.