Despite having a national park in the heart of the city, the green cover in Chennai is just 10% of its total metropolitan area. Among the five major municipal corporations in Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore has 17.5% of tree cover that is spread over 4,514 hectares (ha), according to a forest department study funded by the State Development Policy Council (SDPC).
The government is taking consistent action to increase green cover and had spent `191.8 crore last year to plant 71 lakh tree saplings, said C Ponnaiyan, vice-chairman of SDPC, while presenting the study at an internal meeting on Tuesday.
Stressing on the importance of the types of trees being planted, G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an environmental organisation, said, “After repeated requests, only now the government has started planting native species in some areas. In coastal cities like Chennai, only native trees like pungai (beech) or veppamaram (neem) can withstand a cyclone. Exotic species get uprooted easily. This was evident during Cyclone Vardah during which we lost a massive green cover”.
According to global standards, any urban area should have at least 33% green cover. London has aimed at 50% by 2040. So Chennai, particularly with a national park, should look at 50% in the next two or three decades. Presently the tree cover of 8% to 17% in Tamil Nadu is alarming, he said.
The attitude of residents towards nature reflects on a city, believes D Kamatchi, a National Green Tribunal (NGT) advocate. “It is not surprising that Coimbatore topped the list as people, who moved to the city from surrounding villages, were from agricultural backgrounds and wealthy. So they ensured the green cover wasn’t disturbed”. Also the city hasn’t witnessed major cyclones.
Though people from similar backgrounds arrived at Madurai city, the green cover remained the same. Instead, they focussed on agriculture in their native villages. At present acres of barren land along the road, connecting the city to the Madurai bench of the Madras high court, are being converted into commercial plots. So it is the right time to plant tree saplings here, she said.
Environmentalists are hopeful for the future. They say that contrary to the 1980s when residents would fight over insects or protruding branches from neighbouring houses, there is better awareness now, especially the way in which youngsters team up to rejuvenate lakes and plant trees around them.
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