The resolve of a village has saved a 400-year-old banyan tree which was to be chopped for a state highway road project in Sangli district. Residents of Bhose village rallied around the tree whose canopy is spread over 400 sq m — literally and figuratively — over the past week, garnering attention on social media and eventually bringing it to the notice of authorities to save it from being brought down.
On July 16, state Tourism and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray wrote a letter to Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari requesting for the tree to be saved by making changes to the Ratnagiri-Solapur highway on state highway 166 passing through the village. The letter said that the 400-year-old tree, near a Yellamma Mandir, had a spread of nearly 400 square metres and had been a part of the history of the area as well as is home to many species of birds and animals. Thackeray tweeted on Wednesday that Gadkari had responded positively to the request and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had begun reworking on the realignment of the Ratnagiri-Nagpur highway.
On Friday, a senior official of the NHAI said that while the main trunk of the tree, which was coming in the way of a service road, will be kept intact, some of its branches will be trimmed. “A relook at the plan was done to save the tree. The main carriageway will require trimming some branches of the tree but changes will be made to the service road by making it discontinuous for about 20-25 m to keep the tree’s trunk intact,” the official said.
Residents of Bhose said they learnt earlier this month that a service road, part of the highway, would pass through the spot where the tree and its branches are spread out, requiring it to be chopped entirely. “Due to the lockdown, we could not assemble in large numbers to protest.
But, we decided to make all the efforts we could to save it. Initially, around 20 of us gathered as a form of Chipko movement while keeping social-distancing in mind. Then, we took to social media to talk about the tree and why it is important to save it,” said Bhose resident Dinesh Kadam.
The residents individually and through a group called Sahyadri Sanghatana took to uploading photographs of the tree on Facebook. They also took videos in an attempt to show how wide the branches of the tree spread. Some videos featured the monkeys living on its branches with residents speaking of the other species who will lose their homes if the tree were to be cut.
Another group that the residents created awareness through is the warkaris. “The warkaris walk or travel in groups to go to Pandharpur from various parts of the state every year. The tree with its vast expanse has been giving them shelter to rest for many years. Many groups assemble at a time under the tree which due to its dense foliage gives them a space to rest, eat before carrying on. We stopped vehicles of the pilgrims passing through the village and told them about our efforts. Some of them then posted photographs of their previous journeys where they took shelter under the tree, denoting how important it remains for all of us,” Kadam said.
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