THOOTHUKUDI: It seems like the brick kilns in the district have been given a free hand to fell the State tree, thanks to a favourable Tamil Nadu government gazette notification that exempted the Asian palmyra palm from No Objection Certificate (NOC) for felling and tree transit permit.
For the locals, it is quite common now to see brick kiln workers axing the palmyra trees for firewood.
One such incident is the recent felling of an orchard of palmyra palm trees along a canal in Ammanpuram here.
Sources told The New Indian Express that the poverty-stricken farmers, who owned the trees, were given Rs 300 per tree.
Tamilar Kazham Co-ordinator M P Saravanan, who recently stopped the felling of the trees in Arumnuganeri, said no action was taken against the woodcutters despite complaints.
According to him, the drought-resistant perennial trees along water bodies and government poramboke lands are fast disappearing.
Mushrooming industries and windmills, and illegal sand mining also contribute to the disappearance of the trees.
Saravanan said the public is largely unaware that the Asian palmyra palm is the state tree of Tamil Nadu.
"Forget the public, even some government officials are clueless. A sub-inspector who came to inquire about the felling based on our complaint argued that the banyan was Tamil Nadu's state tree. The public needs to be sensitised," he said.
Social worker V Gunaselan said the tree's leaves were instrumental in documenting Tamil literature. "When it comes to palmyra palm, nothing goes waste. This tree was the backbone of the rural economy before plasticware filled our shelves.
It gained significance once again following the ban on plastic. Strict action should be taken against those desecrating palmyra trees as per The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971," he said.
Panai Pathukappu Iyakkam (Palmyra Palm Protection Movement) president S J Kennedy sought stern action against the brick kiln owners who "lure the poor farmers" into giving up on the trees.
That said, the district administration had allocated Rs 60 lakh for planting 15 lakh palm nut seeds on 30,000 hectares of land across Thoothukudi in the 2018-2019 financial year.
A forest official pointed out that the tree is one of the 41 trees categorised under 'Exempted Scheduled Timber Species'.
Dr P Ravichandran, Professor, and Head of the Department of Plant Science, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli appealed to the Tamil Nadu Bio-Diversity Board to declare the tree as 'protected' as its numbers have declined from 10 crores to three crores in Tamil Nadu.