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Ok Google, Take Me to a Banyan. Hyderabad’s Green Activists Geotag 914 Trees in Effort to Protect Them

News18 logo News18 13-08-2022 Kakoli Mukherjee
Ok Google, Take Me to a Banyan. Hyderabad’s Green Activists Geotag 914 Trees in Effort to Protect Them © Provided by News18 Ok Google, Take Me to a Banyan. Hyderabad’s Green Activists Geotag 914 Trees in Effort to Protect Them

The next time you are in Hyderabad, ask Google Maps to guide you to one of the 914 banyan trees lining both sides of the Hyderabad-Manneguda highway. The majestic trees have been geotagged by the city’s green activists in an effort to protect them.

The activists suspected an attempt to burn down the giant trees. To curb this, the activists decided to geotag them. The exercise involved noting the latitude and longitude of each tree, clicking its photographs and then plotting it on a map. As a result, in just a click, you can find the location of all these trees.

Speaking to News18, Sadhana Ramchander, a member of a group, ‘Nature Lovers of Hyderabad’, said: “The geotagging was done by 20 volunteers who put over 200 hours marking the GPS location of each tree. Besides this, attributes such as tree girth and presence of prop roots were also noted.”

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1rYZY4oeTh12IRdAebxjSUsdKtWwCcEA&ll=17.314523507653995%2C78.14358915&z=12

“Nearly one-tenth of the trees had burn marks, and almost all were surrounded by scorched earth. We are sure that the undergrowth had been set ablaze,” Ramachander said.

The activist further said the volunteers categorised the burn damage into marginal and extensive. “While the ones with marginal burns might have caught fire accidentally, those with extensive damage show every sign that they were set on fire. The intention behind this is to declare the trees dead,” Ramachander added.

These banyan trees, along with 9,000 other trees located near Chevella, dot both sides of the Hyderabad-Manneguda highway. Activists said they were under imminent threat of being axed after the Centre sanctioned a road-widening project in the area.

The nizam of Hyderabad had reportedly planted these trees 125 years ago. The stretch also has the last remaining scrub forests of Mudimyal and Kandlapally, which are home to many grassland animals, including the migratory harrier and the rare tawny eagle (listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List).

In 2021, three members from ‘Nature Lovers of Hyderabad’ filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal requesting it to pass an order to prevent road widening or to conduct an environmental impact assessment. “The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is telling the court that it will cut as few trees as possible, but we do not want a single tree to be cut. These trees were here before us and they will outlive all of us. They are ecological treasures. We want the state government to declare the area as Telangana Biodiversity Heritage Road. There are two forests on this road besides these trees,” Ramachander said.

Offering a solution, the activist said: “There is another road that goes from Chilkur Balaji to Vikarabad. That road can be widened instead. Also, this stretch is around 46 km. Cars can be asked to go slow instead of widening the road.”

Ramachander added: “We have been trying to meet the minister for municipal administration and urban development, K Taraka Rama Rao, for the past two years but there has been no response so far.”

Banyan tree an ecosystem

Talking to News18, Vaibhav Raje, an arborist, said: “Human beings are hardwired to love trees. When we escape from the concrete jungle to the greener outskirts, we can feel the connection to nature. A banyan tree is an ecosystem in itself. Different kinds of fungi, microorganisms, birds, small mammals among others are nurtured by one tree. The best thing about this species is that once you plant a banyan, you need not plant any other variety as it can spread by itself. Having such trees is a blessing, given the threat of climate change.”

Trees nurture the soil in which they grow and create their own micro-climatic conditions. A dry and hot city like Hyderabad can do with such trees that bring down surface temperatures.

Other majestic banyans

There are other well-known banyan trees across India. The banyan is considered to be related to ancient Indian traditions, as they can survive for centuries. Case in point: the 800-year-old Pillalamarri banyan tree at Mahabubnagar in Telangana. There is also the 400-year-old Dodda Aalada Mara at Kethohalli near Bengaluru. The 250-year-old Great Banyan Tree at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanical Garden near Kolkata is another famous attraction.

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