Tree Trouble

This year, Goans are being urged to hug a new Valentine – coconut trees

Citizen groups have concluded that celebration is the best way to protest the government's recent decision that the iconic coconut palm is not a tree.

Last month, the Goa government declared that the state’s iconic coconut palm was not actually a tree. It removed the species from the purview of the Goa Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, thus allowing palms to be felled without a permit. In a state where the palm is highly valued and never cut unless absolutely necessary, the decision caused widespread anger. Now, two organisations have devised a unique way to express their unhappiness.

On February 14, they aim to stage a festival-protest titled “Coconut Love, Coconut Valentine”, at which residents of the palm-fringed state can express their love for the “kalpavriksha” (tree of heaven) and register their opposition to the government’s decision to declassify it as a tree.

“Every true Goan who loves our heritage is angry with this government,” said historian Prajal Sakhardande of Goa Heritage Action Group, which has organised the event along with Goa for Giving.

On January 14, the amendment to the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984, dropped the tree status granted to coconut palms ostensibly to help farmers to cull old and ailing trees without going through lengthy bureaucratic procedures. But citizens groups spearheading protests against the decision did not buy this claim: they believe it is a ploy to make construction easier for apartments, factories and resorts.

“We feel they [the government] is out to destroy the natural heritage of this place, to aid certain lobbies,” alleged Sakhardande.

Event organiser Armando Gonslaves said that Valentine's Day was the perfect day on which to demonstrate love for the initiative was an ideal way to make their feelings known. “We thought of using the day to show our love for this tree, which has sustained us for so long,” he said.

As part of the programme, several events related to the coconut tree will be held across the state from February 6-14. A photography competition will encourage Goans to pose with a palm tree and post their pictures on social media. “Make the coconut tree your Valentine” is one theme.

Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks, photographer Prasad Pankar, and cartoonist Alexyz will inaugurate the festival by symbolically pinning hearts on a coconut tree.

Gonsalves said the finale is a planned Coconut Valentine festival of sorts at the South Goa seaside venue Zeepop-by-the Sea, which locals will demonstrate a variety of crafts, products, sweets and foods that use the coconut, along with poetry, music and art related to the palm. He has also planned smaller festivals across Goa, including cooking competitions and art competitions for children.

“Already, people have posted song, satire, art and cartoons on social media to express their dismay,” said Gonsalves, who led a delegation last week to the Goa governor on the issue. "And this will continue till the government realises it is wrong and rescinds the amendment.

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