Seeing a tree being cut unlawfully? Here’s what you can do

Prompt reporting of tree abuse alone can help forums created for the protection of trees effective. Here are case studies from Chennai

Updated - June 08, 2024 11:17 pm IST

Published - June 08, 2024 11:16 pm IST

Chennai Middle School on Begum Sahib Street where many cut trees were lying on its premises

Chennai Middle School on Begum Sahib Street where many cut trees were lying on its premises

Every day, on a reasonably long commute, one is likely to come across at least one tree “snuffed out” to extend or “free” what lies around it. Often, the act would come across as unjustified.

Nothing has captured this disturbingly continuing trend as powerfully as the fall of a mighty boabab on Chennai soil in 2021. Parked at a petrol station in Greams Road, its genesis predating the facility by at least a couple of hundred years, the boabab found its branches lopped off, purportedly to prevent it from being an “obstruction”. Shorn of its branches, the tree lost its “balance”, destabilised, and within a week, fell on the petrol station. The dramatic denouement seemed to signify delivery of natural justice and given that man-made systems seldom deliver the justice due to trees, it brought some solace to the heart.

Greater Chennai Corporation’s fine amount for abusing and defacing trees has legs to cover thousands of rupees, but is plonked like a couch potato on the paper that notified it. As anyone with eyes to see would know, signboards and lights continue to be hung on trees.

The sound of a lone tree falling deep within a forest may go unheard, but the sound of a tree in a city square axed unfairly and falling to the ground should reverberate and shake up our civic consciousness. But it does not. Oftentimes, a tree would disappear from the scene without as much as a thud, as the “noise” does not carry to the forums designed for its protection.

Removal of any tree is only seldom brought to the District Green Committee’s (DGC) notice, says one of its members. “Before the inception of the District Green Committee, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) was penalising the offenders up to ₹10,000. After DGC’s inception, there was one commercial establishment in Vannanthurai, Adyar, which was penalised ₹50,000 for unauthorised heavy pruning of the tree in a public space,” says T.D. Babu, member of the Chennai District Green Committee. “That was the highest penalty for an offence against a tree within Corporation limits. After that, no penalty has been collected, even for unauthorised removal of trees. Both private and government agencies continue to fell trees almost on a daily basis without any fear, as there is no penalty levied.” says Babu. “Only a few come to our notice, and many go unnoticed.”

Recently, a local resident informed the District Green Committee (DGC) that Chennai Middle School on Begum Sahib Street in Royapettah had cut down many trees on its premises without any permission.

Babu further adds that last month, another case came to light, in which a Pungam tree (Pongamia Pinnata) next to a bus stop in Adambakkam (ironically near a Corporation ward office) was reduced to its trunk in an act that was clearly unjustified and arbitrary.

Whenever such information reaches it, the DGC is enabled to notify Greater Chennai Corporation and wait for it to take action, which in many cases would include further abuse of the tree.

Inventory of trees

Babu suggests the creation of an inventory of trees through which GCC can easily monitor the trees of Chennai. “Since there is no inventory, GCC is unaware of the loss and addition of trees across the city,” says Babu, adding that this inventory should not be just about numbers, but also species identification.

Now that the District Green Committee is in place, Babu urges residents to register complaints of unlawful and unjustified felling of trees in and around their neighbourhood and anywhere, anytime they come across it.

“The Collector of Chennai is the Chairperson, and the District Forest Officer, who sits at the DMS campus, is the member secretary. People can register complaints with them,” Babu says, providing numbers to raise a complaint on. The Collector’s office ( and 044- 25268320); and the Forest Officer ( and 98413 55250). “Besides that, they can alert Nizhal (a not-for-profit trust that promotes concern for trees) which is an expert member of the Green Committee,” says Babu and provided the contact information for Nizhal ( and 9884114721).

(Lakshmi  Ramaswami is interning with The Hindu)

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