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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 27, may 16-31, 2009
A scheme to green the city

Calls for a Tree Act and a Tree Authority

(By Shobha Menon)

With Tamil Nadu’s rate of urbanisation currently greater than the national average, it is not surprising that rapidly growing Chennai, the fourth largest metropolis in India, is a major focus of economic development. Naturally, development of greenery in this environment is a major challenge.

CMDA Land Use

Total CMDA area – 1189
Number of municipalities – 16
Number of town panchayats – 20
Number of villages – 214 in 10 Panchayat Unions

Vegetation cover in the CMDA area

Tree cover – 54
Per cent – 4.54%

Land by classification in the CMDA area

Class - Area (ha)
Agri 12692.30
Fallow 67053.00
Industries & Institution 1451.46
Marsh 733.83
Racecourse & Stadium 41.69
Sand 50.51
Swamp 1346.50
Urban 29096.60
Vegetation 5382.85
Waterbody 3045.70


Major hurdles in Chennai include the fact that the local body has an ad hoc approach to greening, which should be an important civic priority. While infrastructure development is considered a priority, tree planting and tree maintenance are considered incidental activities. Also, there is a lack of demand from an apathetic self-centred public!

Happily, a proposal to green the Chennai Metropolitan Development Area (CMDA) has recently been made by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and been received with interest. The Department used Remote Sensing Technology to delineate the prospective areas which could be brought under this Urban Tree Greening Plan.

Says C.K. Sreedharan, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, “The green cover in Chennai is currently less than five per cent of its area, when it could be around twenty­ per cent. Even if possibilities are less within the city, it is possible to plan to increase the green cover in the outskirts. In Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad there is a more systematic method to take care of gaps in greening. What is needed here is a sustained commitment to treecare and planting.”

The prospective area within the CMDA’s jurisdiction available for urban greening is as follows:

Avenue planting: Nearly 450 running km (RKm) of the roads. This comprises nearly 300 RKm linear stretches available on both sides of the road for avenue planting, with more availability in the northern and northwestern portions as compared to the southern portion of the CMDA, and nearly 200 RKm available along minor roads.

Peripheral planting around wetlands, tanks and canals: Nearly 120 RKm.

Block planting in institutional and educational areas: Nearly 2-5% of the area.

Homestead planting: Distribution of fruit-bearing and flowering plants through a Tree Authority in all Municipalities at 20,000 nos/year.

Community planting in ­peripheral villages: Block as well as linear planting in town and village panchayats at 2000 ­numbers a year.

According to Sanjay Srivas­tav, Conservator of Forests, “The primary task in conceptualising a successful city or peri-urban afforestation scheme is selection of the most appropriate planting site or location, taking into account not only its present status but also the future deve­lopments. Also to be considered are the planting design, density and the choice of species. This requires a Perspective Urban Forest Management Plan for each urban local body, which must form an integral part of the Master Plan of the body. It drives home also the need for regulatory support in the form of a Tamil Nadu Urban Areas (Preservation of Trees) Act and the constitution of a Tree Authority. The Tree Management Plan has to take advantage of GIS and ­Remote Sensing applications for identification of prospective ­areas for green belt development.”

The Forest Department has suggested the following measures to achieve long-term greening successes:

Creation of a green belt for abatement of pollution

In the Chennai Metropolitan Development Area (CMDA), about 2000-5000 plants can be planted a year over a period of five years, from 2008-2009 to 2013-2014. A detailed proposal in suggested areas for planting has been drawn up with the help of satellite data. The choice of species will be based on various considerations like site-specific factors and topographic, climatic, edaphic and aesthetic considerations. Besides involving people’s representatives, NGOs, residents’ associations, students’ associations (NSS/NCC) and the public in the planting prog­ramme, it is also suggested that five per cent of the Corporation budget could be earmarked ­towards enhancing and maintaining the green cover, which may accrue to the local bodies as part of development charges.

Drawing up an Urban Tree Management Plan

Since trees in urban areas ­suffer from specific issues not encountered in the rural areas, it is suggested that the Corporation draw up and follow an Urban Tree Management Plan for all the trees in public land within the Corporation limits. The Plan must take note of the ­following:

Urban tree risk management: When removing trees in the interest of traffic and safety, the problem arising could be viewed from two perspectives: (1) risk assessment – to determine the relative risk of future tree crashes, and (2) benefits assessment – to determine the local effects of removing trees or the application of other strategies.

The strategy should lay down guidelines for planting trees along streets and highways during new construction, widening, re-landscaping, and other projects. It should also look at the planting of trees along the roadside or in the median of divided facilities. It also involves a long-term vision to help expansion of such projects like grade separators on roads to accommodate the pressure of increasing traffic.

Urban tree transplantation: Often, in transplanting operations, a shallow-rooted species will do better than deep-rooted species, and younger plants better than older ones. Some species tend to withstand transplanting better than others. For any transplanting operation, the following need to be considered: 1) species transplant tolerance, 2) condition of the plant, 3) season to transplant, 4) new planting site conditions, 5) equipment needed, and 6) follow-up care.

There are great differences in the environmental requirements for each tree species. Only those trees can be transplanted where light, moisture, soil pH, and wind exposure are appropriate for the particular species. It is important to take due care in respect of all transplanting operations in the digging of the pits, care in storing and transporting, following planting norms, and undertaking post-planting care like watering, mulching, fertiliser application, pruning and providing mechanical support. Special considerations are necessary when moving large trees. Therefore, 50-60 cm as the maximum girth for transplanting of a tree is suggested. A transplanted tree should also be maintained for a minimum period of five years till it gets firmly established.

Urban forestry research: Urban trees perform important ecological functions in cities and towns by sequestering carbon, reducing summer cooling costs, removing airborne pollutants, and controlling storm-water run-off. Vegetative canopies provide a cooling effect on microclimate directly by shading the ground surface and indirectly through transpiration. Roadside trees, because of their proximity to the generation of vehicle emissions, are important in reducing point-source pollution. They have a positive impact on air quality through deposition of pollutants in the vegetation canopy, sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in woody biomass, and reduction of summertime air temperatures. Research on urban forestry can provide an overview of air quality effects and guidelines to estimate atmospheric carbon dioxide reductions through urban forestry.

Enactment of Tamil Nadu (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act

With the growing pace of urbanisation, industrialisation and increasing population, there has been indiscriminate felling of a large number of trees in the urban areas of Tamil Nadu. It is necessary to provide for the preservation of trees in the State by regulating the felling of trees in public premises and for the planting of an adequate number of trees to restore the ecological balance. Private organisations and individuals should also be motivated and encouraged to plant more trees in their holdings. Therefore, it is suggested that a Tamil Nadu (Urban ­Areas) Preservation of Trees Act be enacted. Similar legislations exist in Maharashtra (1975), Karnataka (1976) and Delhi (1994).

Constitution of a Tree Authority

In order to regulate felling of trees on public land and encourage and motivate people to plant trees on private land, it is necessary to constitute a Tree Authority for the Corporation areas. The proposed Tree Authority shall, subject to any general or special orders of the State Government, be responsible for:

  • the preservation of all trees within its jurisdiction;
  • carrying out enumeration (census) of the existing trees and obtain, whenever considered necessary, declarations from all owners or occupants about the number of trees in their land;
  • specifying the standards regarding the number and kinds of trees which each locality, land and premises shall have, and which shall be planted;
  • development and maintenance of nurseries, supply of seeds, saplings and trees to persons who desire, or are required, to plant new trees or to replace trees which have been felled;
  • planting and transplanting of trees necessitated by construction of new roads or widening of existing roads or replacement of trees which have failed to come up along roads or for safeguarding danger to life and property from hazardous trees;
  • organising demonstration and extension services and assisting private and public institutions connected with planting and preservation of trees;
  • planting and maintaining such number of trees as may be considered necessary according to the prescribed standards on roads, in public parks and gardens, and on the banks of rivers or lakes or seashores;
  • undertaking critical study of the proposals of various government departments and private bodies for construction of buildings, roads, factories, irrigation works, laying out of electric, telephone, telegraph and other transmission lines, with due regard to protection of existing trees and planting of more trees, wherever possible; and
  • undertaking such schemes or measures as may be directed from time to time by the State Government.
  • Tree Officers will assist the stated Tree Authority. A detailed proposal about the constitution of the Tree Authority and its duties could be included in the suggested Tamil Nadu (Urban Areas) Preservation of Trees Act.

    Says G.Dattatri, former urban planner and currently Trustee, SUSTAIN (an NGO that encourages sustainable cities), “It is imperative that an institutional set-up like a Tree Planting ­Department – with manpower, expertise, and a core team supported by necessary budget – be established immediately at the Corporation level.

    “If a Tamil Nadu Preservation of Trees Act is passed, the local body will get the support necessary. The GIS green cover survey currently available with the Forest Department should also be made freely available so that local bodies can take necessary steps to green sensitively.”


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