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Trees don’t hinder development; they birth ecosystems, support life

Why is it that we find trees to be mere things, a hurdle in the way of development, the easiest casualty for a wider road or a housing project, asks Prerna Singh Bindra.

opinion Updated: Jul 31, 2018 14:54 IST
Prerna Singh Bindra
Prerna Singh Bindra
gurugram,tree felling in gurugram,Atul Kataria Chowk
Over 150 people protested against the proposed cutting of 1300 trees to build a underpass and flyover at Gurugram’s Atul Kataria chowk and an auditorium at Bal Bhawan in Sector 4. (Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

1,300 trees face axe for Gurugram underpass, flyover (Atul Kataria Chowk), announced a recent headline.

It was just like many of the others that I had read overtime: ‘6,000 trees cut over night in Aravalli for a real estate project’, ‘8,000 full-grown trees chopped off in Gurgaon’, ‘16,500 trees to be cut in South Delhi for an ambitious redevelopment project’, ‘A dam on the Parwan river would destroy 2 lakh trees in Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan’…and so on.

I am yet to become immune to such brutal, indifferent slaughter of trees. It makes me wonder, when were trees reduced to mere statistics? And why?

Why is it that we find trees to be mere things, a hurdle in the way of development, the easiest casualty for a wider road or a housing project? How is it that we reduce a being that nurtures an incredible variety of life, including Homo sapiens, into a thing, a number?

My earliest memory of a tree is one venerable mango in my grandparents’ home in Jalandhar. It stood regally in the centre of the garden, its lush braches thrown wide. Our holidays revolved around it—the entire family squeezed onto a cot nestled under its thick canopy as we gossiped and munched through the lazy afternoons; occasionally, rousing ourselves to pluck the still-sour mangoes. The summer deepened, the mangoes ripened, and we relished the bounty. The sweet taste of its firm, sunshine flesh still lingers, so much so that to date the ‘langra’ is the only variety of mango to grace our table every season.

When the grandparents passed away, so did the tree, a casualty when the house was sold off, and with it was lost a part of me. A tree is a repository of memories, of associations, of bonds woven and strengthened under its benevolent shade.

At home, too, I had a relationship with various trees.

The neighbour’s guava, whose fruit we routinely stole, the jamun whose visitors—parakeets, bulbuls, koels—first introduced me to the magical world of birds. The mango tree outside that my parents fought to save, the neem whose tender new leaves were ground and fed to us every morning, and gave shade to my dog—in life and in death.

I spent a good part of my childhood in the company of trees, usually lost in a book, deaf to insistent calls to do homework and housework. I read, keeping an eye on the life around me: a resident spotted owlet, squirrels—who scurried about boldly, cheeks bulging with food—langurs that swung from branch to branch, a mongoose family that burrowed somewhere among the roots; it was a jungle out here!

Indeed, a tree is the fulcrum of an entire ecosystem.

Trees, I had learnt in school, give us oxygen, they purify the air, provide us shade, fruits, medicinal herbs. They are rainmakers. As I grew older, and developed an interest and affinity with nature, I was fascinated to know just how useful trees are. They act as sound barriers, help in bringing down micro climates (try standing under the shade of one, and then without, or provide a thick, green ‘tree’ curtain to your home, and note the marked difference), foster biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, maintain healthy ground water reserves.

For a tree-deprived city like Gurugram, the value of green cover takes on a greater meaning, given the high level of pollution and other issues, which will be discussed in detail in the next column.

(This is the first in a series of three ‘tree’ columns which look at the recent tree slaughter across Delhi-NCR, why it matters, our relationship-and lack thereof-with trees).

(Though she lives in Gurugram, the writer is at home in the forests she is committed to protect. Her book: The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis, was released in June 2017)

First Published: Jul 31, 2018 14:53 IST