In their response before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on 31 January, the Nature Lovers of Hyderabad (NLH) alleged that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had not considered the alternate alignments while demanding to sacrifice over 700 Chevella banyan trees in Telangana.
This comes after the NHAI in its response on 10 January defended the project of translocation of widening over 700 century-old trees on the NH-163 highway.
According to the sources, the NHAI was supposed to submit its response on 13 February, but the hearing has been postponed to 21 February.
“In the oral arguments, the tribunal pushed NHAI to consider saving the trees. Our case is strong and alternate alignments are possible,” a member of the NLH told South First.
A 200-km walk from Warangal to Chevella (Hyderabad) by environmentalist Desam Kosam Prakash finished on 9 January.
It sought to prevent the axing of banyans across the 46-km stretch from Telangana Police Academy (Hyderabad) to Manneguda in Vikarabad district.
Meanwhile, the NLH members alleged that one of the Banyans geo-tagged (number 459) was axed by unknown people on the NH163 in the Mudimyal Reserve Forest.
Banyan # 459 was a relatively small but healthy tree on NH 163 within the Mudimyal Reserve Forest. It has been felled without permission while the case is still pending at the NGT.
Will @TelanganaForest take action against the perpetrators?@MPsantoshtrs @KTRBRS pic.twitter.com/ZNsjL38Mic
— Save Banyans of Chevella (@chevellabanyans) February 10, 2023
Discrepancies in NHAI response
In its 15-point response, the NLH applicants primarily stated a “gross discrepancy” in the number of Banyan trees mentioned in the NHAI report.
According to them, the total number of impacted banyan trees is 694, not 544 as mentioned in the NHAI report.
The NLH applicants also dismissed the NHAI claims that an attempt to move the alignment away from the impact of thousands of other trees and houses.
Submitting photos and videos of several concerned stretches (Kandlapalli forest, Mudimyal Reserve forest), the applicants claimed that the existing road is “not surrounded by thick forests or thickly populated areas”.
“Populated areas are already being bypassed by the NHAI and bypasses are proposed,” the application read.
Translocation of banyans not plausible
While NHAI advocated for the translocation of the trees in its earlier response, the NLH members also stood their previous ground and denied it.
Reasoning further, the applicants said that only the stump of the trunk is translocated during the process, whereas banyan trees sustain because of their canopy and aerial roots.
Pointing out the NHAI’s claim of successfully carrying out the translocation of Banyans in its response along with two photographs, the applicants said, “The NHAI has not submitted evidence of mass translocation successes. The photos are evidence that why these trees should not be translocated. One of the photos also shows that after three years, the stump has grown a smattering of leaves.”
The NLH also alleged that the biodiversity, bird life and ecosystem of the area have not been considered by the NHAI.
The NLH members also listed the details of geo-tagging the Banyan trees, an exercise under which they marked GPS locations in August last year and flora and fauna that the trees attract.
About the NHAI’s claim that “90 percent of these trees in size are as good as any other tree”, the applicants stated, “the size is no indication of their actual age or their ecological value and services like fruiting.”
Citing the photos and videos alongside the road, the applicants also called the NHAI’s claim false that 90 percent of the trees are small.
The city-based environmentalists claim that some of the banyans in Hyderabad, winner of the 2022 World Green City Award, are around 100 years old.
The NLH applicants also rebuked the NHAI’s claim of not acquiring land due to legal issues and land acquisition litigation as well as the latter’s data submitted on road accidents.