By Meera Bhardwaj
If Bengaluru lost about 50-60,000 trees between 2012-18, then once again, it is threatened to lose the same numbers – if six big linear structure projects get the green signal. As it is, the city is set to lose another 5500 trees from Metro rail expansion. The city’s rich green cover includes various tree species ranging from heritage to rare, old to native which have been providing protection to the city’s bio-physical environment.
As per survey and research studies done by various scientific institutes, Bengaluru’s green cover has declined from 70 per cent to less than 15 per cent till date. The scenario is pretty dismal as in the last 45 years, the southern regions of the city have shown a decline of green cover from 55 to 2.33 per cent (1973-2017) and from 70 to 2.11 per cent in the industrial area of Peenya.
SIX LINEAR DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
The six linear projects which are in the pipeline include road widening on three major roads, KRDCL roads, Peripheral Ring Road project, and a lake development project.
If some projects are on, some are stuck in High Court on many issues while others are waiting to take off. However, even before they could get nod, in some projects, trees have been marked and felled in some areas of the city. Some have seen translocation of trees that have failed while trees have been removed quietly in some stretches. This can be done as there are neither proper records of the number of trees nor any tree census done till now.
Environmentalists and Citizens groups are a worried lot and express their dismay and say if some projects are at various stages in the High Court, other projects need a re-look as the city cannot bear the brunt of such a massive tree cover loss in the coming years. This will result in changes to micro-climatic conditions in a city. Now, the projects that have been challenged in the High Court include – KRDCL Road project, Bangalore University Study Centres in Bio-Park area, HAL Airport Road Underpass and Widening of Bellary and Jaymahal roads (the state has filed an IA in the apex court on the royal land acquisition issue).
PRR PROJECT 33,838 TREES
One of the repercussions of this project is felling of 9000 trees where it will destroy the catchment area of TG Halli Reservoir. The Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) project will connect Tumakuru road with Hosur Road but comes at a huge environmental cost of 33,838 trees.
For the last 15 years, successive governments have failed to take up the project as it is mired in issues of environment, land acquisition and citizens’ protests. Presently, the BDA is proposing to go for a global tender which needs approval from the state government for implementation of the 73-km-road project with 8 lanes and 4 service lanes at a cost of Rs 21,250 crore.
ROAD WIDENING 6197 TREES
The city road widening projects will take away 6197 trees, a huge chunk of the city’s tree cover – 3299 trees for city surrounding KRDCL roads, 2449 trees for widening of Bellary Road and Jaymahal Road and 449 trees for Sankey Road widening from Cauvery Circle to Yeshwantpur.
However, the University of Agricultural Sciences expert team has recommended protection of 66 per cent of the 7512 trees for widening of four roads if these trees are retained in site or relocated. But unfortunately, KRDCL has already destroyed 2347 trees even before the issue came up before the court. The expert committee has okayed felling of only 1721 trees.
BANGALORE UNIVERSITY 9000 TREES
As far as Bangalore University’s verdant Jnana Bharathi campus is concerned, the state government has allotted 17.5 acres of land for construction of a CBSE centre, Yoga University, Central University of Karnataka and others which will result in axing of 9000 trees.
A majority of the mature trees of indigenous variety were planted more than two decades back in the Bio-Park. However, the High Court has restrained these institutions from tree felling as also levelling of land which is part of the Bio-Park.
SINGANAYAKANAHALLI 6316 TREES
In the case of restoration of Singanayakanahalli Lake under Hebbal-Nagwara Valley project, the minor irrigation department has asked for permission to fell 6316 trees. In the background of protests, the state government has extended the date for filing of public objections for another 20 days as it entails felling of massive tree cover.
METRO RAIL (PHASE-2A/2B) 5400 TREES
Bengaluru in the recent years has made way for depletion of its tree cover for various stages of Metro Rail construction for better connectivity and to provide a mass transport from one end of the city to another.
In the Phase 2A of construction of metro rail from Silk Board to K R Puram, 1248 (or 1859) trees are on the felling list as the felling proposal proposes the latter number. As per EIA of BMRCL for this section on the 2B route from KR Puram to Bangalore Airport, a massive tree cover of 3541 trees will be lost and this is a very heavy price to pay for connectivity.
For the earlier constructions, some trees were saved like the trees on the Jayadeva junction and relocated but most of the tree cover has been lost.
For the second phase of construction, thousands of trees have already been marked for Central Silk Board-KIA-metro line and public objections have been called for. However, time and again, BMRCL have been flouting rules and breaking down the phase-wise sections into packages and still further to avoid public objections and permissions.
UNDERPASS/FLYOVER PROJECTS 63 TREES
For an underpass at the junction of HAL Airport Road and Suranjandas Road, 25 trees have to be cut and already 10 have been cut. Presently, the matter is in High Court and it has stayed the felling. A flyover between Kendriya Sadan and Ejipura will result in felling of 38 trees if permission is given by the tree officer but is likely to be issued.
Urban conservationist Vijay Nishanth adds there is no thought process or application of mind when it comes to PRR, road widening and lake development projects. “Some city wards where we have carried out tree census – have good tree cover but most of the wards are losing their biodiversity. Every day, they announce an unsustainable project and there seems to be no end to this. There is an urgent need to decongest the city instead of turning the city into a treeless and lake-less concrete jungle. Can we afford to go to the courts every time they come with something that fragments our city ecology on the outskirts and in the city itself.”
D T Devare, trustee of the Bangalore Environment Trust says, “Due to these 10 projects, as many as 60,166 trees are threatened. Some projects like the Metro, they are going on while some are in the High Court. As far as PRR project is concerned, there is no transparency and what is happening, there is no clarity. However, illegal felling is lesser nowadays with PILs being filed.”
For Prof T J Renuka Prasad, Ex-coordinator of the Bio-Park, the Bangalore University’s Bio-Park is the biggest lung space of Bengaluru and the government’s decision to divert is a big blow for conservation. With the filing of a PIL in the High Court which has granted an interim stay on tree felling, he said, the need for conserving this Bio-Park is imperative. Further, BBMP DCF has already said Mini-forests should be conserved.
Even as environmental groups and activists are fighting to the hilt to save the city’s remaining green cover, the state government has been taking up new and newer urban infrastructure projects without giving much thought to its issue of water crisis. Instead of saving the tree cover and rejuvenating lakes in a sustainable way and re-charging the city’s ground water, they are bent upon taking up ecologically disastrous projects like the Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir Project to solve the water problem.