Wednesday, February 25, 2009



When her efforts to persuade officials not to cut the ancient banyan in front of her farm at Kothanur failed, 73-year-old Almitra Patel did the next best thing: She shelled out Rs 27,000 so that the contractors spared the banyan and two adjacent partially-cut trees


There are those who hyperventilate on greenhouse gases and the like and make a cosy career out of it. And then there are those, like 73-yearold Almitra Patel, who, intuiting how interlinked the sun, water, earth and seasons are, make personal sacrifices to protect a tree or a pond.
Almitra’s has been a virtual saga to save the huge banyan tree in front her farm in Kothanur. Her tryst with the banyan started in October 2007 when the government decided to develop Bagalur Road as the cargo route to Bangalore International Airport (BIA) at Devanahalli.
Almitra, who has a farm off the road for the last three decades, has been quite popular among the residents for planting and nurturing saplings in the area. But her heart sank when the carriageway for the cargo route was proposed to be widened from 5.5 metres to 7 metres with 1.5 metre shoulders on either side to protect the road from erosion. This meant that a total of 341 fully-grown trees on the eightkm stretch were to be axed!
She decided to act when she saw some persons marking trees, including her favourite banyan, in front of her farm for chopping. “The Public Works Department had listed the trees to be felled. The forest department then evaluated their market value and fixed the price for each tree as per government norms and auctioned them in blocks of two and four kilometre stretches. For the 341 trees on the 8 km stretch, the price was fixed at Rs 3 lakh. A group of six persons bid it collectively and had paid Rs 4.8 lakh to the government,” Almitra told Bangalore Mirror:
But the tragedy was that some of the un-marked trees along the road, which were away from the proposed carriageway, were also being cut along the stretch — that is how the official-timber mafia nexus works. “When I complained about this, a forest officer shrugged it off with a wink so as to say, ‘A bonus for the contractor’. When I complained this to the Deputy Conservator of Forest who ordered a site visit, the contractor denied up front that he was cutting unmarked trees,” she said.
This is just the beginning of Almitra’s story of saving a giant banyan tree. “The oldest and the largest banyan tree with a seven-meter circumference and branches spreading across the road was near a slight bend on the road. I managed to track the road contractor and I persuaded him that a little road straightening would improve the alignment and also save the tree. He obliged but I had to convince the public
works department (PWD). When I contacted the PWD supervisor, he said that if the tree was within 1.5 metres of shoulder space of the road and did not obstruct the carriage way, then it could be saved.The heritage giant was safe, exactly 1.5 meters from the edge of the road and the proposed alignment.”
As she convinced the PWD supervisor, she realised that a few other trees in the same row could also be saved. And it was all thanks to the little alignment solution that had sprung in her mind. “It was then agreed that three trees could be saved in this way. The decision was taken, the officers left me to negotiate the price to be paid for purchasing the trees to be saved from felling,” Almitra said. Then came the time to pay up the contractor to buy the trees. After much negotiation, the contractor agreed to spare the banyan tree and two nearby stumps. “Ultimately we settled for Rs 18,000 for the heritage giant, and Rs 9,000 for the other two banyan stumps which were partly chopped by the time I could save them,” Almitra revealed, before hastening to add: “It was nothing but a ransom paid to free the tree.”
Not only did she save the banyan trees, she also paid extra money to send the sprouting tree branches to eco-friendly college campuses. It has been two years now, and Almitra has created basins around the stumps and continues to water them regularly with a vain hope that they would re-sprout.
But why this mad love for a tree which she does not own? Almitra answered: “The banyan tree is home to a lot of insects that are regular visitors to my farm (she prefers to call it the unusual nature sanctuary). The village next door is turning into a concrete jungle and if tree-chopping continues at this rate there is hardly any greenery left for the future generations. Moreover, everytime I come out of house I do not want to see the open sky, all I want to see and feel around me is greenery.” So the next time you spot a woman sipping tea while sitting on the roots of a banyan tree on Kothanur Road, it will be Almitra —- the woman who paid Rs 18,000 to save it.
Hope her tribe increases.


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