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Vol. XXIX No. 14, November 1-15, 2019

Bureaucratic bungling leads to loss of green cover

by The Editor

The story of Kotturpuram Tree Park was literally a breath of fresh air for Chennai. A passion project spanning over a decade in the making, it was built by Nizhal and its troupe of citizen volunteers when in 2006 the Public Works Department (PWD) approached the organisation to green a plot of land on the banks of the Adyar river. Over the years, this dynamic community planted and nurtured saplings, including indigenous species sourced from Auroville and Tiruvannamalai. They helped create a much-loved green haven in Kotturpuram, beloved by park-goers and fauna alike. In a costly communication error last week, a contractor working under the aegis of the PWD cleared a patch of park containing trees, shrubs and plants as part of a project to strengthen the bunds of the Adyar river.

The clearance came as a shock to the park community, who had reportedly met the authorities earlier this year in a bid to protect the space from exactly this sort of mishap. Apparently, the PWD had acquiesced to their request and accepted their proposed solution of using an alternate access path to conduct their work without compromising the greenery. Unfortunately, it looks like the message was not passed on to the contractor to whom the work was delegated. Unaware and apparently unsupervised, the contractor brought down a portion of the park overnight.

With this one act, Chennai has lost over a 100 trees, shrubs and plants that had flourished near the river, including a few rare tree species such as Kokottai (Garcinia Spicata), Kumizh (Gmelina Arborea), Azhinji (Alangium Salvifolium), Asoka (Saraca Asoca), Vennangu (Pterospermum Canescens), Suryagada (Suregada Augustifolia), Kalvirasu (Ehretia Laevis) and Uvamaram (Dillenia Indica). It is ironic that they were taken down to build pillars and a see-through boundary wall for the river when during the floods, it was the trees that helped prevent pollutants from being swept into the Adyar river. And it’s not just us people who have lost a precious green space in the city – the greenery had become a habitat for many creatures great and small, from butterflies, weaverbirds and sunbirds to snakes and mongooses. They too, have lost a home.

Page 1Havoc by the PWD at Kotturpuram tree park

This incident is disappointing for a city which already tends to rank rather poorly when it comes to green cover. In fact, according to a report filed by the Care Earth Trust in 2018, Chennai loses two per cent of its green cover every year. The general consensus then had been that Chennai needs to reclaim open spaces to develop more parks and ameliorate its green cover.

A cynical person may consider the Kotturpuram Park incident to belie these plans.
However, to its credit, the PWD has not let the incident go without follow up action. The Nizhal team posted an update on Facebook saying that senior PWD officials, led by the Chief Engineer Mr. Asokan, met at the park to survey the damage. They have promised to salvage the situation to the greatest extent, committing to source and plant saplings of the lost trees. This work is expected to commence as early as next week, and Nizhal has bounced back to work, inviting volunteers to chip in.

While this is all to the good and speaks volumes on how Nizhal as a matter of policy prefers to collaborate rather than confront authority, it may be time for the Government to reflect on how best to improve communication within its various departments and wings so that they act in a coordinated fashion.

Kotturpuram Destruction

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