Citizens geo-tag Chevella banyans to save them

Some of the banyan trees on the Chevella highway that have been geotagged.

Some of the banyan trees on the Chevella highway that have been geotagged. | Photo Credit: Serish Nanisetti

About 22 km from Hyderabad on the road to Vikarabad, a row of banyan trees used to greet people. Now, there are only patches of banyan tree canopy, which earlier covered nearly 46 km of the road. Over the past five years since a proposal was floated for widening the two-lane road into a four-lane stretch and connecting to a regional ring road, the trees have been hacked, burnt, and uprooted using earthmovers. But nearly 1,000 of them have survived. Now, a citizens’ initiative is geo-tagging the trees to show the ecological cost of the destruction.

“We have geo-tagged 914 trees between TSPA Junction and Manneguda. That included two which were torched in the past few months. The idea is to make our case stronger before the National Green Tribunal,” says Sadhana Ramachander, who is part of the initiative to save the giant trees.

Once the team decided on geo-tagging, even young people got involved as they photographed the trees and fed the latitude, longitude details which can now be found on Google Maps. Search and a result like 87F9+M4Q, SH 4, Amdapur, Telangana 501504 will pop up. “This is just a teaser we are releasing a detailed map with geo-tags soon,” says R. Natasha who is part of the tagging project.

One of the volunteers who geo-tagged the trees is 16-year-old Naman Talwar. “Geo-tagging of this kind and on this scale is first of its kind in India. Regarding the banyans, public awareness is low. Government hostility is high, and among the youth, while many care, action rarely goes beyond signing petitions. I see the Chevella geo-tagging project as a sign of change in the way both Indian youth and adults perceive environmental damage,” says Naman.

The geo-tagging settles one big question about the number of trees on the road. Earlier, different number were bandied about but now there is an exact figure. 

The four-laning of NH-163 between Bijapur and Hyderabad (Chevella Road) is being executed at a cost of ₹956 crore. “By recording the number of trees, we are showing that one ecosystem — almost a forest — is being destroyed. The impact of cutting so many trees will have a disastrous impact on the local environment,” says Asiya Khan, who is part of the citizen’s initiative. 

But everyone is not so concerned about the trees. “The road will be straight and likely to start from here,” says Mohammed Siraj who set up a tea stall five months ago. “More traffic, more people will mean more business,” he says. 

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2022 12:28:29 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/citizens-geo-tag-chevella-banyans-to-save-them/article65644687.ece