THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Isolated heavy rain and gusty winds are causing trees and branches to fall, raising the need for a better and sustainable pruning plan of the urban forest in the capital. Lack of scientific pruning along the busy stretches are putting life and property at high risk.
Incessant rain and hostile weather conditions have become a regular affair in Kerala since 2018 but the authorities are yet to wake up and come up with standard operating (SOPs) procedures or guidelines for managing the green cover in a way that it minimises rain disasters and ensures safety of the people and their property.
In the capital, after every heavy rain, the city roads are littered with tree branches and uprooted trees. According to Fire and Rescue Services Department officials, they get an average of four to five calls about fallen branches and trees after every downpour. During strong winds, the number would go up. According to an official, recently, they received 100 calls on a particular day. “Timely pruning and management of trees are very crucial to avoid such mishaps. This has to be done by the authorities concerned. We deal with distress calls,” said the official
Passing the buck
None of the authorities — local body, PWD, social forestry or other departments — involved are ready to take responsibility for pruning and managing the urban green cover. According to experts, there need to be proper SOPs and guidelines for managing trees and rain-related disasters. “I was coming from Vattiyoorkavu to Sasthamangalam one day and just as I passed the Maruthankuzhi bridge, small pieces of a dry tree branch fell on top of my car with a huge thud, making a dent on the top. As I stopped and looked back, I saw many such weak branches dangling from trees. Local people said these dry tree branches fall frequently, especially during rough weather. Many two-wheeler riders have had narrow escapes,” said Arjun P, a resident.
Federation of Residents Association Thiruvananthapuram (FRAT general secretary M S Venugopal said it’s high time the civic body passed a resolution at the council regarding this. “There is no doubt that it’s the primary responsibility of the city corporation to ensure the safety of the citizens and their properties. Unfortunately, it’s not happening. Who will cover the cost of the damage incurred during such mishaps?,” said Venugopal.
A top corporation official admitted that they lack a scientific plan to manage trees. “We act based on the complaints we receive and carry out routine pre-monsoon pruning. If a tree stands by a road dangerously, we take action. Multiple agencies are involved in the process — KSEB, PWD and KRFB. The respective health inspectors in the circle deal with such dangerous hurdles,” said the official.
Revised disaster mGMNT plan must, says expert
According to experts, multiple agencies being given the same responsibility is leading to a lot of confusion and blame games. Former head of Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) K G Thara told TNIE that it’s high time the state government reworked the disaster management plan, which came into effect in 2015. She said Kerala has witnessed a massive change in weather conditions since 2018. “The departments and authorities are passing the buck when some untoward incident happens. We need more than just pre-monsoon pruning.
There needs to be SOPs and specific guidelines regarding the management of trees,” said Thara. She said that there needs to be proper auditing in this regard too. However, none of the agencies are equipped to carry out pruning. “Our departments, especially the fire and rescue services, don’t have the necessary equipment to deal with such disasters. As per the current norms, every department procures equipment from suppliers who quote the least amount. We cannot compromise on quality during disasters,” said Thara.
Tree lovers demand Act
Environmental activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan said there is no proper system in place to manage and protect trees. “We bring in experts for everything but the government is reluctant to bring in experts for this. They chop off branches on one side and the tree loses its balance and gets uprooted. This is not the way it should be done,” said Sridhar. He said that there are plenty of experts at Kerala Agriculture University and Kerala Forest Research Institute, but the state lacks the mechanism to utilise them.
“We have a social forestry department and it should take over the management of trees in the state. They can set up a team in every district. Right now, they are giving permission to axe trees without any scientific review,” said Sridhar.