The poplar avenue of Amar Singh College, Srinagar (left); after the felling of the trees (right).
| Photo Credit: Junaid Dar

Facing public outrage, the authorities of the 111-year-old Amar Singh College on Friday said the felling of 234 trees, including poplar avenue, was necessitated by “safety concerns posed by aged poplars”.

“During the 2014 floods, the institution remained immersed in water for a long duration of time. The trees started uprooting in minor windstorms and causing damage to the surrounding structures. Several grievances regarding safety and health concerns were received by the college administration during this period and are well documented in the college records,” a spokesman of the college said, in a statement.

The Hindu on Thursday reported about the popular avenue being felled to the umbrage of the civil society, including architects, writers, college alumni etc. 

The college authorities also claimed that the community members living in the vicinity of the college “complained a number of times about the potential threat caused by these aged trees”.

“Typically, a poplar tree has a lifespan of around 50 years. The poplars on the avenue had already crossed the 60 years and were planted in 1965,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said these factors “forced the institution to take this extraordinary measure”. 

“We deeply appreciate the concerns expressed by civil society regarding the campus. We want to reassure everyone that we are fully committed to creating a green, sustainable, and safe environment for our students. The safety and well-being of our students, faculty, and visitors are our top priorities,” the statement said.

The college plans to start, “a massive plantation drive of 500 conifer and other trees in the month of April”. The college is establishing a micro forest-clusters, within its campus to serve as vital “aeration lungs”, which contributes to improved air quality and environmental health on campus,” it added.

Alumi’s body seeks inquiry

Meanwhile, an alumni group of the college on Saturday wrote an open letter “to express their concern” and sought inquiry into the college’s move.

“It is to our utmost horror that we have witnessed the irreversible damage being inflicted upon these living monuments. The fact that this action was taken on world arbor day goes on to show the tone-deaf approach that the college administration has taken to such an important decision,” the alumni body said, in a joint statement.

It alleged that the decision to cut down the trees “without adequate public consultations or consideration for alternative solutions is not only a disservice to our cultural heritage but also a violation of our collective responsibility to preserve and protect the environment”.

“We demand that a high-level enquiry be held into whether adequate thought was given to the course of actions and what alternatives were considered,” it said.

It demanded that all stakeholders, including students, faculty, alumni, and members of the wider community, “be given the opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute to the formulation of a more inclusive and sustainable approach to campus development”.

It also urged the Social Forestry department “to immediately embark on a restoration project and ensure the unique cultural and environmental heritage of the college is preserved”.

Established in 1913, the college earned the prestigious Award of Merit in the 2020 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation for preservation and restoration of the structure after 2014 floods. The poplar avenue lent a distinct character to the rare stone-and-brick structure that represents a mix of British and Indian architecture. 



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