As India gets increasingly urbanised, one man tries to minimise its silent casualty, says B Dasarath Reddy.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
"No road is safe," says Uday Krishna Peddireddi. And he is not talking about the traffic or about road accidents.
He is talking about trees, the biggest casualty when it comes to road-building.
All over India, as urbanisation grows and more roads are built, more trees lose their lives.
To be sure, trees are planted as compensation. But can anyone really compensate the destruction and death of a tree that is hundreds of years old?
Peddireddi's mission is the relocation of trees -- to save them not just from immediate and imminent danger such as road widening, but also seek out safer places in Hyderabad so that the translocated trees do not face a similar threat a few years later.
Schools and office campuses, individual houses, gated communities and even graveyards are ideal for relocation, he says.
"In 2015, we shifted 72 trees to a graveyard in Manikonda. All the 72 trees are alive today," he says. There is a sense of satisfaction in his voice.
Peddireddi's work has garnered considerable response.
As many as 60 volunteers have joined him in this cause in the city. They come together on weekends for three months between July and September every year to shift trees.
So far they have shifted 300 trees to new locations this season.
This is their secret life. They continue with their day jobs for a living.
Peddireddi is an entrepreneur.
After returning from the US in 2000, he ran a small-scale defence manufacturing unit in the city for 12 years before it shut down due to financial reasons.
At that time, he invested in three foot overbridges in the city. The advertisements placed on either side of these steel structures were the sole source of his livelihood.
This is when he observed the problem of felling roadside trees for 'public purpose'.
His team is now capable of relocating 100 trees a day as it seeks to optimise costs.
The cost of engaging an earth mover and a truck for relocation of trees is often pooled from crowdfunding, simply by sounding out members of a few WhatsApp groups about a specific requirement.
As the message of these activities spreads across the city, Peddireddi gets calls from house owners in colonies asking him if he could find a tree or two to relocate on their premises.
Recently, he got a surprise offer from a private company as well as from a high net worth individual. They said they would like to bear the cost of all his future tree-saving missions in complete anonymity.
This coincided with a call from a forest department official from Khammam district in Telangana, who has sought his help in relocating 2,000 trees that would otherwise be removed to make way for a coal mine. The officer has no budgetary support to relocate those grown trees.
"The cost of relocation works out to about Rs 4,000 per tree," Peddireddi says. "We use this opportunity to work out the optimal cost per relocation in a scenario where volumes are bigger, as this effort needs to be scaled up to the national level."
He wants every road project in the country to have a compensatory relocation plan for trees. "Maybe, that is when I might think of rolling out my initiative along commercial lines," he says.
Through his Vata Foundation, he and his team have planted trees regularly over three years in Maharashtra's Tippeshwar.
Now, that forest area has turned into a home for tigers, he says.