Government rejects NGO’s ecocriticism amidst Banyan tree protest

The government has rejected criticisms by local NGO Ecocare Maldives that it may be failing to meet its well publicised carbon neutral commitments by not maintaining and replanting trees and plant life across Male’ that is removed or cut back to make way for building developments.

Maldives Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam told Minivan News that criticisms claiming the government was removing entire trees from the capital without replacing them were completely “baseless” and that any significant plant life making way for construction would be “replanted” elsewhere in Male’.

The claims were made as a small protest was held today outside of Aminiya school on Chandhanee Magu regarding the removal of entire trees and plans to remove some branches from a prominent Banyan tree situated on a new construction site opposite the building.

Ahmed Shiham, a volunteer staff member for Ecocare representing the NGO at the protest, said the group had only been made aware in the morning by the President’s Office that a number of branches from the Banyan tree were set to be removed along with other plant life at the site.

According to Shiham, although the construction will mean that Banyan tree would remain in place after the removal of two or three of its branches, Ecocare was concerned that another green patch in the densely populated urban environs of Male’ was being removed.

Officials from the NGO claim that the removal and cutting of the trees through the construction, which was being undertaken by subcontractors said to be working for the country’s Ministry of Education, was a contradiction to the commitments of President Mohamed Nasheed in promoting carbon neutral development.

With the Banyan Tree in question under 50 years of age, it does not come under the protection of environmental development regulations – although the government has stressed that it is committed to keeping the tree where it stands.

However, Shiham claimed that Ecocare was concerned that the country’s Environment Ministry has cancelled planting programmes that would bring in additional plant life from other countries in the region to be housed in Male’.

“What we want is for these trees to be replaced; green for green as we would call it. This would be good for the president’s carbon neutral commitments after all,” he said. “But we believe the government is not giving a budget for this.”

Ecocare officials said that in other nations, carbon certification schemes such as offsetting were being used whereby trees were replanted in other locations to reduce the impact on the atmosphere that their removal would have on the environment and the air we breathe.

Along with environmental concerns, Shiham also raised questioned the impact that the removal of some of the Banyan tree’s branches may have on balancing and supporting the plant itself – leading to possible safety hazards for people and buildings in the vicinity.

“Tomorrow building work is expected to begin on the site and the tree could be imbalanced,” he added.

Ecocare’s claims were nonetheless derided by Environment Minister Aslam, who questioned the criticisms that he believed showed a “lack of knowledge” or understanding about maintaining trees and ensuring they remain stable.

“If we have to cut off branches, I’m sure that [cutting] will happen” the minister said. “But we will treat the tree and clean it. We will protect it. This is living in harmony with nature without forgetting human factors.”

Aslam claimed that the government would also be meeting its commitments to replant any trees moved to make way for the development, though he said this would not apply in the case of the Banyan tree, which was just going to have some branches removed to accommodate construction.

Although Ecocare and the ministry were unsure of just how old the Banyan tree outside of the school was, both believed it was under fifty years of age, an age that would require it to be protected under the country’s environmental laws.

“I know it was definitely not fifty years old as I remember the tree being 30 centimetres or so high when I was in kindergarten [in the area],” he said. “I am now 40, so it is of similar age.”