As 120 hectares of forest land could be destroyed for the Chennai-Salem Green Corridor planned by the Tamil Nadu government, we could be losing a good share of the semi-evergreen trees.
The eight reserve forests that the proposed highway project would pass through are part of the Eastern Ghats, a discontinuous range from the Mahanadi river basin in Odisha to Sirumalai and Karanthamalai Hills in Dindigal, Tamil Nadu. Out of these reserves, the forests of Kalvarayan hills are well known for their medicinal woody species, as demonstrated by a research paper by Dr. Kadavul Krishnan, a professor of Tagore Arts College, Pondicherry.
The study documented about 60 woody species which has specific medicinal properties, which are commonly used by the tribal communities in the area - namely Kurumba gounder, Sadaya gounder and Ariyan. The study aimed to record these names and uses of these species, as the information was otherwise passed down verbally as a practice.
Dr. Krishnan said that certain villages were picked as study samples. The data was then extrapolated to the whole reserve forest, including the buffer zones that cannot be accessed by humans. The buffer zone in a reserve forest is an area that is left for plants and animals to thrive without human intervention.
Interestingly Dr. Krishnan's team found that the forest area is almost like a pharmacy, with medicines for diseases such as tumor, jaundice, diabetes, liver disorders, and impotency. Typically used remedies are the leaf extracts of Erythrina sricta or 'mulmurungai', which is used for common cold. The community also knows an easy fix for snake bites - a concoction of the bark paste of Buchanania lanzan or 'Kolamavu' mixed with water.
Some of these species are native to South India and cannot be found anywhere else. An example of this is Strychnos nux-vomica L or Yetti - seeds of which have powerful anti-venom characteristics. Ironically, the same plant's fruits are poisonous and unfit for consumption.
The study also comments that a substantial amount of forest area has been converted into farmlands and further deforestation could result in a loss of biodiversity.
While the plants above the ground prove to be a medicinal boon, the roots of trees in the evergreen forest protect the fauna by ensuring that the soil doesn't dry out.
"There are many animals endemic to the region," says S Abhiraman, a lawyer and an activist moving against the Green Corridor. "Elephants, bears, cheetahs, foxes are found. Many species of butterflies and birds are also found. All these species consume the herbs."
Abhiraman has been the acting head of a collection of 26 groups called the 'Pasumai Vazhi Salai Ethirpu Kuzhu', a federation representing farmers and protestors against the Green Corridor scheme. "To build a 200 feet wide highway, sand would be dumped and packed tightly before laying the tar. This would impact the water holding capacity of the forest," he says further.