Environment

TREE TRANSPLANTATION GUIDELINES COMES AS A SAVIOUR FOR TREES ON THE METRO RAIL FELLING LIST

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The Guidelines for Tree Transplantation has come as a “Ray of Hope” for Bengaluru which is in process of losing massive tree cover for linear development projects. 

By Meera Bhardwaj

Presently, on some of the proposed routes of Metro Rail, hundreds of trees that were on the felling list, have been identified, assessed and contract given for transplantation. Meanwhile, activists say with the ongoing High Court hearings, orders and directions, the movement to save tree cover is moving in the right direction with accountability now pinned on user agencies like BMRCL.

Years of litigation and concerted campaigns and plantation efforts by Citizens and Environment Groups has finally paid off dividends with the Karnataka High Court appointed Expert Committee of University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK providing guidelines to scientifically translocate trees from its original site to a receptor site. 

The High Court appointed Expert Committee comprising experts from the department of forestry and environment sciences, UAS was headed by Dr C Nagarajaiah and 5 members – Dr K T Prasanna, Dr A S Devakumar, Dr M Mahadeva Murthy, Dr N Nataraja Karaba and Dr R Krishnamurthy. The committee also took into account the recommendations made by the previous team and the objections raised by Dattatreya T Devare, Bangalore Environment Trust and others to the said report and other papers and documents submitted by the petitioner. The High Court had asked the committee to look into its directions and ascertain the number of trees that can be saved/retained and transplanted on the 155-KM-road proposed to be built by KRDCL.

After several field visits by the UAS Expert Committee which included consultations with KRDCL and Forest department and others, they examined every aspect of the tree: species, size, girth, height, proximity to drainage or utility, health condition, physical damages, dead, dying branches and pest or insect infestations, ecological characters and functions. 

DETAILED ASSESSMENT

Finally, they assessed the trees that had the potential to be transplanted. Looking for morphological and phenological characters, the Committee also assessed earlier transplantation cases. Suggesting measures for survival and improvement of already transplanted trees, the committee came out with its guidelines for tree transplantation.

Assessing 6 packages of the proposed 155-KM-KRDCL road, the committee came out with a road map for saving hundreds of trees. On the road alignment of Hoskote-Budikere Cross to KIAL airport road, out of 1227 enumerated trees, they suggested retaining 327 trees, transplant 319 and fell 343 trees. However, they noted that 238 trees had already been felled by KRDCL. While from Madhure to Devanahalli road via Rajankunte and Thimmasandra, 1980 trees were on the felling list. However, recommended retaining 337 trees, transplant 882 and fell 731 trees. However, KRDCL had already felled 84 trees.

After detailed examination, the committee said out of the total enumerated 7942 trees, 2374 had been felled by KRDCL while only 64 transplanted. So, only 5531 remained for examination and the committee examined 5510 trees as KRDCL had not obtained permission for 431 trees. The Expert Committee’s assessment has saved nearly1642 trees (retained) and transplant another 1732 trees. However, the axe fell on 1721 trees.

An important observation made by the Expert Committee: Some of the trees are very old but are of high ecological significance (heritage). In such an event, the possibility of changing the alignment itself should be explored or maximum efforts made to save such heritage trees.

Finally, UAS expert committee came out with a set of procedures and guidelines for tree transplantation to be followed.

Citizens and activists opine these guidelines opens up a new chapter in tree transplantation as 1000s of trees are on the felling list for the Bangalore metro rail project and the KRDCL road project, etc. 

The Committee says, “A decision to transplant a tree should be based on its species, condition, size, conservation status, amenity value, suitability for transplanting, environmental & cultural factors, functional and engineering considerations and cost effectiveness

GUIDELINES FOR TREE TRANSPLANTATION:

  • Species: Trees of significance, conservation value, healthy, no to invasive exotic trees
  • Age, height, girth: Lifespan, good health & form, should establish roots again
  • Root System: Trees need reasonable root ball size for transplant, 8:1 to 10:1 (root ball: trunk diameter), however, larger root ball for more mature trees recommended for recovery. Root pruning for some before transplant is done
  • Soil types: Trees on slopes, retaining wall unfit for transplant and so, it should not be transplanted to lateritic soils (unfertile)
  • Distance to travel: The new site should be accessible, vehicular operation, its manoeuvrability at site and during route, & enough space for tree in new site
  • Season of transplant: No transplantation during summer season as evapo-transpiration rate is very high
  • Pre & Post-Care: Pit-size based on tree girth size. Trench digging in two opposing segments after first month of first root pruning, then further digging (since second root pruning) on the outside of marked circumference and then prepare a root ball (since third root pruning) & finally, cut its underside, followed by uplifting and transplantation
  • Root Trimming: Cuts to be clean, no tearing or breaking of roots, sharp cut ends will promote new fibrous roots and aid recovery from injuries
  • Crown Pruning& Cleaning: Crown pruning not recommended as thinning will cut its ability to make food, however, unhealthy, diseased, damaged and dead branches to be pruned to minimize susceptibility to diseases and pests
  • Pre-Root Treatment: Tree roots to be treated with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-termite and root hormones
  • Pit Preparation: Receptor site fully prepared, watering before lifting, outer edge of trench loosened, 15-25 kgs of manure added, watering done again after transplant for easy establishment of roots
  • Damp Hessian (gunny bag): This bag should cover entire circumference of the root ball with bottom skirt (pinned to it after the tree is taken out) hanging out, hessian should be moist till tree is transplanted
  • Lifting & handling of trees: Direct lift with padded protection, use of appropriate machinery to lift the root ball (prepared & wrapped) and not its trunk as it causes serious injury
  • Planting: Tree placed in the same orientation as in its original site, any branch damaged during shifting to be pruned
  • Post Planting care: A soil saucer on the soil surface around edges of root ball to be formed immediately after planting, this is to retain water through rains or irrigation, mulch to be used for retaining moisture, to control weeds, and replenish the soil with organic matter and nutrients
  • Nutrient Management: Fertilisers unnecessary, decomposition of mulch, organic matter is enough during the initial establishment period of the tree  

ACCOUNTABILITY FIXED

Now with the High Court making user agencies like BMRCL accountable, they have to file affidavits and so, they are obliged to follow the guidelines, says D T Devare. “It is now mandatory for the contractor to translocate trees and this is as per the guidelines of the UAS expert committee and under the supervision of the Tree Officer and the user agency. In fact, part of the contractor’s money is held back as transplantation is mandatory. Now we have a system in place – assessment can be done how many trees can be retained at the same spot, how many can be translocated and how many needs to be felled? Further, they have to take up compensatory planting of 10 trees for felling of one tree. However, much vigil is necessary for compensatory plantation. Although, we have a long way to go, accountability has now been pinned on user agencies…….”

According to Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, transplantation of trees is part of conservation activity. In fact, the High Court’s wide-ranging guidelines for tree preservation and transplantation is a remarkable piece of judgment.  “Give a second chance to trees…they have a right to live,” says Vijay Nishanth, urban conservationist. 

“The present guidelines have emerged due to citizens’ involvement and movement. Thanks to Sarjapura Resident Welfare Association, Ram from Whitefield and Joy, Vijay Lakshmi, Vasisth and all the members of the first Karnataka Tree Committee who worked on this idea and put on record that if every option is exhausted, then trees should be saved by transplantation. And this has been taken into consideration by the High Court with the UAS expert committee formulating wide ranging guidelines.”

Further, it was the Mysore Royal family members who took the first initiative on ground when campaign for “Steel Bridge Beda” was launched to protect large scale felling of trees on Bellary Road.  

Nishanth adds, “In fact, the royal family first arranged a meeting, taking all the cost and providing place with the forest department and the arrangements looked after by Yashaswini Sharma. A big thanks to the people who supported a crowd funded tree relocation project and later the BBMP forest cell picked up the transplantation program. This has been accounted in the High Court hearings with the Bangalore Environment Trust following it up.”