'Save Me' Graffiti On Trees Amid Road Widening
|| KATHMANDU, Oct 16: Under the 14th century reformist King Jayasthithi Malla, cutting down a roadside tree in Kathmandu was a serious crime worthy of imprisonment.
Five centuries later, this tradition of protecting the city´s lungs continued, with prison and fines for roadside tree cutting implemented under Nepal´s Civil Code of 1853.
In 2012, however, it´s the lawmakers that are cutting down the trees in the name of road widening -- and there´s no plan for their replacement.
“There is no formal program to replant the trees. There´s nothing approved,” said Bhaikaji Tiwari, chief of the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA).
Instead, there´s widespread confusion over who is responsible for the city´s trees, as well as anger among government officials who say they´re being left out of the picture.
“I´m very sad…about what´s happening to our environment. They should at least consult with all stakeholders,” said Krishna Gyawali, secretary at the Ministry of Environment.
“They” is KVTDA and the Department of Roads (DoR); two powerbrokers given Cabinet authority to cut down any trees planted in the way of their road widening project.
Neither has any expertise in replanting or the varieties of trees suitable for reducing the valley´s pollution, said Manoj Gautam, founder of the conservation group, Roots and Shoots.
“I agree with the road widening…but there´s no plan for tree replanting. Compare this to New Delhi, where they have teams that are mobilized to both clear and replant,” he said.
One department with some expertise is the Department of Forests, said Gautam. Yet, its role is limited to just processing tree felling, rather than choosing which plants go or stay.
“We just evaluate the trees to be cut by the DoR…They don´t have any plan for us about how to replant,” said Ajeet Kumar Karn, district forest officer for Lalitpur.
He said the Valley - already choking with pollution - is in danger of becoming a concrete jungle as the area´s greenery is increasingly hacked away for roads and houses.
“You can feel the temperature fluctuations that we´re experiencing. It´s very crowded and the trees can barely cope with the eco-system,” said Karn.
The amount of trees felled so far are sketchy. As the road widening races to finish Bhattarai´s deadline, neither the DoR nor KVTDA has been keeping track of numbers.
Some sources estimate that thousands of trees have been lost in the last two years; some of them 50, 60 or even 100-year-old plants with metre-thick diameters.
In the last month, a line of trees near Patan´s Central Zoo have been chopped, along with others in numerous areas of Jawalakhel.
Now over 10 large trees on Pulchwok Road are earmarked; prompting local activists to tie ribbon around them and write graffiti, such as “Save Me”, on the tree trunks.
District forest officer Karn estimates that 200 trees have been felled in his district in the last six months, with the same number again likely to go by mid-2013.
Asked where the profits from the sale of this felled timber - a lucrative business - have gone, the entire district forest office burst into cynical laughter.
“Technically the Ministry of Finance should be getting the money. We think they should be putting the money into replanting but they aren´t doing this,” said Karn.
KVTDA´s Bhaikaji Tiwari said the money can be divided between individual contractors widening the roads and the DoR, in what is essentially a matter of district discretion.
“The contractor gets the money. Or the road department gets it. It really depends on the municipality or the Department of Roads,” said Tiwari.
There are claims that the money is driving the felling. Sources said that some trees are even being cut needlessly under the guise of road widening, such as is seen at Sinamangal.
Both KVTDA and Rabin Man Shrestha, environment chief of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), said they will turn the focus on replanting post-road widening.
“It will take some months after the road widening. Next year - maybe in six months - but for now we´re focused on road widening,” said Shrestha.
The KMC had a budget of 1million yearly to replant trees along the riverbanks. Shrestha said he would allocate some of that money to roadside trees if given no other option.
“If the Department of Roads doesn´t replant the trees, then maybe we´ll look at that. I could even call in the private sector,” he said.
“We have been telling them not to cut down the trees. Or, if you must cut, that they need to replace. Until now we are not in the meetings so we just don´t know.”
Replanting trees on streets where the new footpath is less than two meters wide has already been ruled out, said KVTDA´s Bhaikaji Tiwari.
The Department of Roads could not be reached for comment on its current plans for replanting trees, or whether it will decide to redirect tree felling profits to this effort.
This news item is printed from myrepublica.com - a sister publication of Republica national daily.
© Nepal Republic Media Pvt. Ltd. Kathmandu Nepal.