Trees speak on the Chevella highway. Each of the banyan trees between Moinabad and Manneguda via Chevella has a tale to tell.

Some with their trunks hollowed out and burnt, others hacked, still others with their branches mutilated by fire. A few more by their non-existence, they all do not need words to speak.

While the Forest department, which is entrusted with the responsibility to protect them, claims that they all had been victims of a ground fire three years ago, evidence on the ground speaks otherwise.

Deliberate attempts to obliterate existence of the trees were evident wherever the tree stumps were covered with grass, so as to make them invisible.

Three such attempts where burnt tree stumps were covered with dried stalks and hay were found by The Hindu which inspected the area close to Mirjaguda village. Two more spots at the same location showed hollow ground where a banyan had previously existed.

Quite a few banyans lay collapsed to ground, unable to stand the weight after their stems were partially hollowed out and burnt.

Scores of the species are on their way to similar fate, their stems burned to varied extents. At least 25 such trees were enumerated by the The Hindu on the Chevella road. Some trees were found with dried twigs carefully stacked near the base, probably for setting afire at nightfall.

Typically, several trees had the hollowed and burnt portions facing away from the road, giving them the appearance of false normal.

Also, trees lining the plotted layouts were found to be all right, while those lining the farm lands were burnt.

Enquiries with farmers got a stock reply, that the trees caught fire when cigarettes thrown by callous passers-by landed on the dry grass. “I noticed the banyan trees burning five years ago too. During summer, dry grass catches fire easily, and extends to the trees.

Also, farmers set the crop stubble on fire,” says Rakesh, a local. He, however, had no explanation why the phenomenon started only recently, while the trees were 80 to 90 years old.

Srinivas, watchman at an eucalyptus plantation near Mirjaguda, has a different version.

“Farmers started burning the trees deliberately, using hay and kerosene, after the land prices began spiralling. Having a banyan blocking the view reduces the land prices,” he says.

Also, the planned expansion of the national highway between Hyderabad and Bijapur, which would have given them a better price for the land, was hampered by the environmental activists who had campaigned against the move to remove the trees from there.

“This highway, no doubt, needs to be expanded. But the banyans could be saved by translocation. I urged the department to allow me to translocate them free of cost. Several persons came forward to adopt them too. But the tree protection committee needs to take a call on that,” P.Uday Krishna, an environmentalist from Vata Foundation, said.

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