Two weeks ago, on a routine Sunday-morning visit to his property on Greams Road, Manzoor Ahmed spotted men sawing thick branches off a baobab tree at a petrol bunk.
When asked why the tree was being put through such a punishment, the men said the branches damaged the roof of a shed at the bunk, and could also crack the adjacent wall.
“But they had no answer when I asked why they were hacking off branches all around the tree, why they were sawing close to the trunk instead of at the end resting on the roof,” says Mansoor.
He successfully asked the cutters to keep their hands off the tree, took pictures of the branches on the ground and called Nizhal.
“I was desperate for help, and googled for a relevant NGO,” discloses Manzoor.
A flurry of activity followed. Dr. T.D. Babu of Nizhal jumped into an auto for in-person inspection, but not before informing Greater Chennai Corporation about an ill-advised tree ‘pruning’ exercise.
On reaching the station, Babu gave the bunk assistant a lecture on the importance of the tree and the consequences of damaging it.
“Baobab trees can live up to a thousand years, and this petrol-bunk tree is mentioned in Nizhal's book Living Landmarks of Chennai ,” he said.
This baobab is an impressive specimen. Mercifully it stood near a spot where motorists take a turn to leave the bunk.
“After it was hit by a lightweight vehicle, we built a low enclosure around it,” said the manager of Madhu Service Station. “We strive to keep the area green, but now I am proud to know that my bunk hosts a heritage tree. We will preserve it like it is family.”
He promised to install an informational metal board provided by Nizhal and agreed to widen the cement enclosure behind the trunk.
Unfortunately, on 31 December, the tree reportedly leaned over, probably because the delicate balance had been disturbed by the cutting of the branches.
The tree had tilted towards the road, a few feet away from the roof of the shed, and that sadly was its death warrant as it now blocked entry to the offices on the road. Says Babu, “We do not have the wherewithal to pull back the tree and make provision to steady it in its place. Erection of such huge trees calls for enormous effort, proper machinery and funds - things that are hard to come by in such cases.”
(Geeta Padmanabhan is a civic activist and a resident of Thiruvanmiyur)