Colombo Beautification Means Less Trees
By Dinouk Colombage
Colombo’s “Beautification Project” has taken its toll once again with the destruction of over 150 years of nature in just a week’s time.
The wanton removal of the centuries old trees along Wijerama Road took place two weeks ago, and was completed last Monday.
Driving down that stretch all that will be seen is the upturned soil that will be shortly covered by a new pavement.
The Urban Development Authority (UDA), along with the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), has been responsible for this devastation.
L.T. Kiringoda, Director of the Development Planning Division, explained that this was necessary as they are expanding the road and building a pavement.
“We found we could not build the road around the trees as they were too wide in width.
We are planning on replacing the trees,” he said. There was no mention of what they would be replacing the trees with.
Kiringoda explained that “this has becoming an important road in Colombo; it plays host to two major schools as well as an embassy.
While the cutting down of the trees was not our first option, we had no other choice.”
Kiringoda added that the cutting down of the trees was carried out by the CMC, and that they were in charge of replacing the cut down trees.
S. Elangasiri, Municipal Engineers Department, said that they had “explored all alternatives to cutting down the trees, but found nothing else could be done.”
He added that before the start expanding the road and laying the pavement they would be replacing the cut down trees.
“We have not yet decided on what trees we would plant, while we want them to last for many years we must ensure that their roots do not damage the road or pavement,” he said.
Residents in the area have been extremely critical of the operation, calling it an unnecessary destruction to public property. Shehan Fernando, a local resident, accused the UDA of trying to remove all the trees around Colombo and replace them with “local” trees.
“The iconic weeping willows which lined the road running up to Independence Square were replaced with the Na Tree. There was no cause to cut those trees down, but they did so and replaced them with a local tree,” he said.
“I cannot understand why they feel the need to expand this road, Gregory’s road was rebuilt and since then traffic has been flowing smoothly.
This is a side road and should have been left that way, the city has numerous traffic problems, we do not need to add to it with building more roads,” Fernando said.
He went to say that neither the UDA nor the CMC gave the residents any prior warning that these trees would be cut down.
“Many of us have lived down these roads most of our lives, these trees have been here all that time.
As residents of the area we should have had some say in whether or not they were cut down,” he said.
Elangasiri denied that no warning had been given to the residents, “we notified the residents of the area. Work on that road has been ongoing for several weeks; while many of them asked us what we were doing no one has come forth and complained.”
Colombo Green, a local environment group, was highly critical of the recent felling of the trees.
Johann de Silva, member of Colombo Green, said that they were unaware that such a plan had been in place. “When the weeping willows near Independence Square were being cut down we responded and immediately sent a letter to both the UDA and the CMC requesting that they stop it. We also requested a meeting with the Mayor; neither the letter nor the meeting were met with any response,” he said.
“They call this the Colombo Beautification Project, but does that mean Colombo will only be beautiful when all the trees are replaced with tarred roads?” he asked.
De Silva went on to say that environmentally such a move should not have been permitted, “these trees have last for over a hundred years. In the heart of the city which is being filled with pollution is extremely important that we allow such old trees to continue to stand.
It is unlikely that the new trees they are planting will survive as long in the city.”
With the trees now cut down the question over what has happened to all of the timber needs to be asked. De Silva explained that much of the timber is not “A-grade” and would not fetch a high price on the market.
Elangasiri said that the timber would remain in the possession of the CMC, “these trees are public property and so they belong to the municipal council.
I do not know what we will do with it, but it be kept by the CMC.”
With the increased development projects going on around Colombo, environmental groups have urged the citizens of the city to stand up to such acts.
“It is important that the citizens try and stop such acts from continuing, as long as the people stand idly by the authorities will continue to cut down the trees,” de Silva said.