Government creates a forest department for Chennai


Having struggled for years with the problem of creating an adequate green cover for the city, the Government has finally announced that it will set up an urban forestry division to tackle it. Employees of the energy wood division in Chengalpattu which is being wound up will be redeployed in the new division to be set up. While all this is most encouraging, it is not clear as to what this department will achieve which earlier efforts have failed at. Unless there is clear coordination between other vital ministries and departments nothing can succeed in greening the city.


On paper the planned unit is quite clear. It will comprise an Assistant Conservator of Forests with six rangers and twelve foresters under him and they will lead the effort. Their prime responsibility will be to grow saplings and ensure that these are distributed to people. They will also work towards creating eco clubs in schools and work with concerned government agencies and NGOs. For good measure, restoring of the rivers’ ecology has also been vested with this division though it is not clear as to this can be possible given the number of agencies that contribute to the present state of the river. At best, this new division can probably work towards greening the river banks. North Chennai will come in for concentrated effort in greening as it presently has the highest air pollution figures in the city.


The problems that face the new division are plenty. Chennai has had reforestation plans on paper for years and several half-hearted attempts have been made. Each year, Vanamahotsava is celebrated with fanfare and a few saplings are planted on main roads only to have them vanishing within a few days. It has been reported that presently the Chennai Corporation does not even meet 50% of the saplings targets while managing to spend large sums of money on such activities. Meetings between various departments are not held beyond once a year and that is an indication of how much importance is given to greening the city. However on paper, each of the city’s zones is given a target of planting 1000 saplings. It is significant that the plan does not go beyond planting, for the care of planted saplings is not thought of.


Those who are concerned with the green cover of the city also complain of the lack of any scientific basis for planting trees. Just about any species is selected and planted and many of these are completely unsuited to the city’s climate and weather patterns. Shallow rooted trees such as gulmohar find greater favour with authorities as they are probably fast growing but these are most prone to being uprooted during the cyclones in November/December. What Chennai needs according to these experts are more trees of the native variety such as the konrai, the neem and the mandarai. These are long lasting and strike deep roots and grow to good heights. NGOs have been leading campaigns to promote awareness about these trees and these appear to have borne fruit for the Corporation has agreed to grow more saplings of these trees.


But unless the new urban forests division is given a clear mandate and proper decision taking powers, its effectiveness is likely to remain a question mark.