In today's Finshots we talk about trees :)


The Story

The economic value of a tree shouldn’t just be limited to the value of timber. Instead, it must encompass its lifetime contribution. Trees prevent contamination of soil. They improve the quality of water underground. They provide natural shading, extract carbon-di-oxide, offer oxygen. A few trees in a neighbourhood can make the whole place much cooler. Your AC bill will start seeing improvements. You can alleviate flooding risks. Old trees have heritage value. They have been around for a long time. They’ve seen the great depression. They’ve seen the tricolour unfurl for the first time. They’ve seen bloodshed. They’ve seen peace. Some of them are irreplaceable. And yet, governments are often forced to uproot these national treasures in the name of development. Sometimes it’s understandable. But most times, it’s simply egregious.

The government has often relied on a rather simplistic arrangement. Uproot one tree and plant a few odd saplings somewhere else. That should do, right? While the logic can be appealing, this isn’t exactly a like for like replacement. Different trees support different kinds of ecology. There’s no point replacing a sal tree with teak. And there’s most certainly no point in planting a sapling and forgetting about it. Often times, they don’t get the attention they deserve. They are condemned to death the moment they are planted. So there is an obvious need to relook at our strategy. And when the West Bengal government decided to cut 356 trees to construct five railway overbridges (RoBs), the matter was brought in front of the Supreme Court.

The court had a tough task at hand. Obviously, the overbridge was deemed necessary. But then cutting down so many trees also seemed excessive. So they put together a committee of five experts last year to figure out the economic value of a tree.

And their recommendations were made public last Wednesday. The value of a tree. according to the committee should tally up to its age multiplied by Rs 74,500. Also, according to a report in the Times of India  “The true value of a tree, with 100 years of its lifespan remaining, would be Rs 72 lakh... The committee said 50 trees had already been cut, but the 306 remaining trees, many of which are of heritage value, would be valued at Rs 220 crores.”

Truly staggering and if the government is in fact forced to pay this sum, then we are assuming this will be spent in conservation efforts elsewhere. And granted, you might think this valuation is bonkers. In fact, as soon as the report was made available, the court did remark that the current method of valuation would bankrupt most governments. But even if the court were to discount the value by 50%, that’s still substantial. It would create massive disincentives for the government. If they are forced to spend a ludicrous amount of money to uproot trees, then they will seek alternatives.

Thinking about felling 500 trees to widen a road? Maybe you will find ways to redirect traffic somewhere else. Thinking about uprooting a 100-year-old tree? Maybe you will translocate it. And even if you don’t fully compensate for the trees, maybe you could invest more in planting saplings. Take care of them, nurture them, make sure they are a like for like replacement. It’s all on the table. So even if the courts do try and “rationalize” the suggestions made by the committee, we hope that they won’t dilute it entirely. As a species, we are in a very precarious spot. If we continue to disregard the role trees play in sustaining humanity, there’s no doubt it won’t end well for us. Anyway, what do you think about the valuation? Should we now start extending this treatment to other natural resources?

You tell us. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.

Until then…

Share on WhatsApp, Twitter, or LinkedIn.