Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXII No. 6, July 1-15, 2022

Chennai’s trees deserve better care

-- by Shobha Menon

World-over, accepted standards directing the management of roadside greenery include guidelines around the preferred species or shapes of trees grown. These primarily refer to the design of space created and managed by humans. When it comes to an already mature ecosystem of trees or a green patch that is integral to its surrounding natural landscape, these standards are understandably more stringent in their sensitivity to preserving existing environs. The question arises – how are we addressing this in the gracious city of ­Madras that is Chennai?

Over the last 15 years, Chennai has seen an indiscriminate felling of mature trees, little to no health supervision of our greenery as well as rampant tree abuse, including nailing boards onto tree trunks and winding cables and lights around them – this, even as NGOs working in tree conservation have been reiterating that the city needs a periodic tree census and a continued health management system for mature trees. The latest blow to Chennai’s gentle giants is an exercise by the Greater Chennai Corporation that is steadily uglifying trees all across the city in the name of care.

We’ve been watching with growing horror as workers paint large and beautiful old trees – even ancient magizhams, iluppais and maavilangams – in garish shades of alternating green and yellow bands which cover a large part of the trees’ height. Well, almost, as the pictures below reveal.

To add insult to injury, even those trees which are almost toppling at their base due to ill health or neglect – trees that need serious attention – still remain uncared for but brightly painted! An official confirms that ‘it is only to care and protect the trees’ that such work is undertaken and that a contract has been awarded only recently. What ‘care’ or ‘protection’ means for our trees – especially the greenery in our urban areas – needs to be standardised.

Meanwhile, members of the State Green Committee and the District Green Committee are unaware of the whys and wherefores of this ‘caring’ move. Since it is generally believed that trees constitute the main ‘green’ criteria for the Green Committee, the rest are all left quite perplexed.

It is true that urban populations are increasing and we need to ensure safety and visibility, both for commuting traffic and pedestrians alike. But attention to roadside trees can be indicated by environment-friendly material and in a more aesthetic manner, with due respect to the ecosystem services such greenery provides. The criteria for solution design must address high-speed and rural roads while dealing sensitively with urban areas.

When new roads need to contend with existing trees in public spaces, the following may be considered:

a. Roadside safety zones can be planned where possible, to install restraining systems

b. Optical guidance systems or guiding posts fitted with reflectors can be installed next to the road to improve traffic safety

c. Bushes and shrubbery can be planted, for they are environment-friendly as well as a safe road design measure

d. Where trees are a known hazard but transplantation is not an option, crash barriers can be used to provide a larger, safer surface to mitigate vehicle collisions

e. Where the conditions are high-risk, methods such as reducing planting at curves can help rather than generalized tree removal

Our streets are not just routes for motor vehicles. They serve as public spaces where people walk, shop, meet, and participate in activities of living. This means that the trees that line our roadsides must matter to all citizens across professions, ages and income groups.

Can more citizens come together to speak up for these gentle beings who are our lifelines, please?

Points to Remember

1. Growing evidence suggests that the inclusion of trees and other streetscape features in the roadside environment may help reduce crashes and injuries on urban roadways.

2. Transportation safety guidelines for roadsides are generally derived from studies of high speed rural roads, while recommendations for urban streets have been less rigorously derived.

3. Research confirms that communities consider vegetation-bordered roads more positively.

4. Commuting by car is a stressful experience of urban life. Research shows that drivers seeing natural roadside views show lower levels of stress and frustration compared to those viewing all-built settings.

5. While urban foresters, designers, and planners encourage tree planting to enhance the liveability of urban streets, conventional guidelines for transportation safety regard trees as roadside fixed-objects that constitute driving hazards. We need a sensitive balance of thought processes.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share


  1. calicut krishnan subramaniam says:


    As well as his other achievements, Ashoka has to be credited as developing arboriculture in India, he was the first, and possibly only, person to devise and implement an empire-wide roadside tree planting policy. And the exemplar who has made officialdom take a relook at its choppy – happy ways is none other than fabled Mauryan Emperor Ashoka.

    Emperor Ashoka was one of the earliest Indian monarchs who planted shady trees on roads and in public places. The Moghuls, too, realized the necessity of shade on the roads which they constructed. But there was no conscious planning; and the Peepal, banyan and Pakur trees were indiscriminately mixed with Neems tamarinds and Mahuas. It was only in Kashmir that they showed some preference for planning and planted magnificent avenues of chinar along the banks of the river Jhelum, which can be seen at their best at Gandharbel and Matarf on the way to Pahalgam.

  2. ck Ramani says:

    The main cause for environmental degradation is pollution. Toxic substances released by Industries pollute the air and contaminate water, causing hazardous diseases in humans and animals.

    So, here is how we can save ourselves:

    1. Plant Trees

    2. Ensure better planning and location of Industries

    3. Put in place automobile emission controls

    4. Use renewable energy such as win, solar and ocean currents

    5. Protect ozone layer from further depletion

    6. Educate farmers to use bio-degradable pesticides and safe chemicals

    7. Fight water pollution by installing effluent treatment systems.

    8. Encourage biogas production and usage.

    We can save Planet earth from these 8 useful points. That is my clarion call.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Updated