The Sri Lankan capital Colombo has a reputation to be greener than many South Asian cities mainly due to the plants and trees grown by the roadside. In the last week of November a number of old trees across Reid Avenue were cut by the authorities. Some of those trees were over a century old and were designed to create a ‘garden city’ in Colombo. The fallen trees caused heavy traffic congestion in that area.
Subha Wijesiriwardena shares her feelings:
When I heard that the large, beautiful trees that pave Reid Avenue in Colombo were being felled, my heart broke. I was so stirred inside – and it was hard to explain to anyone else why this particular incident had moved me so much.
The authorities had provided the following reasons for the removal of these trees:
- The roots of these trees have damaged the concrete pipes/ sewer systems/ roads
- Some of the roots of the trees were cut off to tackle the situation and that had made them unstable there after
- Now they need to be cut for public safety
These trees fell prey to the kind of ‘development’ that Colombo, and some other parts of Sri Lanka, are now facing. Subha adds:
All across Sri Lanka, from Kalpitiya to Pasikudah, there’s development taking place at an alarmingly efficient rate, and it all looks frighteningly badly thought out. Beaches are ravaged and luxury resorts are built with no heed paid to the damage to surrounding ecosystems and environment, small local businesses are brought down and boutique restaurants and hotels replace them. Roads are widened, bridges and highways are mushrooming across the parts of the country that the government cares to develop and homes and indeed trees are removed to make way for these.
It is also claimed that the authorities made no efforts to enlighten the residents of Colombo city about the reasons for cutting down these trees. So a number of netizens created a Facebook page titled “Stand Up For Colombo's Trees” to protest and raise awareness:
This group is created by caring and saddened citizens who want to make sure that no more trees are cut in the future. We also want to appeal to relevant authorities to make the protection of the existing trees a priority in city planning.
Soon a Facebook event was created on November 29, 2012 to gather in the Reid Avenue in front of the Arts Faculty, University of Colombo to protest the cutting of trees.
Thinking about this senseless destruction actually made me angry so I was thrilled to see that a group of concerned Colombars – led by Jan Ramesh and Indika Arulingam were organizing a protest against wanton tree felling in the city. For the first time in my life I resolved to attend a demonstration and actually participate- not cover it as a journalist or gawk with a sense of irony.
It was surreal spending two hours on the side of a busy road holding placards for trees. Having spent my whole adult life sniping at hippies suddenly I was a tree hugger. But well I’m a Colombar more than anything else and this city needs to cling to every bit of greenery it has. A protest in this case is honestly not a futile or self-indulgent exercise (or doesn’t have to be). A complex decades old war is one thing but cutting trees is different. It doesn’t take too many people to make a difference- 200 people on the street and thousands more angry and the government may well decide it’s just as well to keep some fairly harmless trees in place.
Subha Wijesiriwardena concludes her post with:
In a country where you can’t say how much you hate the way things are, maybe it’s the trees for which you can use your voice. Save the trees, because it may be all we can save.