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Friday, August 17, 2012

How many trees do we sacrifice for development?

The road widening projects of BBMP and BDA have drastically decreased the green cover in Bangalore. Such projects are designed selectively by choosing the roads with maximum number of trees that can be cut. At grassroots level, contractor is the king. Engineers are mere puppets in the hands of these tree-killers. The Timber mafia rules the roost. The recent widening of Chittaranjan Das Avenue in Thippasandra bears testimony to such contractor-oriented-work where countless trees were butchered mercilessly. For every tree identified many more unmarked trees were axed and the valuable tree carted away by the contractors.

The new Sirsi Circle – Agara signal-free corridor sought to be imposed by the government is bound to require tree-cutting. The Karnataka High Court, in a landmark judgment, directed the concerned government agencies to protect trees and also involve local citizens in the planning process. This forced the government to invite the public to a meeting on 13th August, 2012 in Vikasa Soudha. The meeting was chaired by Sri.Kaushik Mukherjee, Addl. Chief Secretary to Government of Karnataka and other participants included Mrs.Amita Prasad, Principal Secretary in Urban Development Department and Sri.Shankarlinge Gowda, Commissioner of BBMP apart from representatives of various RWA, NGOs and general public. The discussions mainly centered around Hosur Road – Koramangala – HSR Layout portion of the project with the residents of these areas protesting the traffic diversion and the resulting chaos which would affect their daily lives. Surprisingly, nobody raised the issue of protecting greenery which was the basic premise on which the High Court had directed the civic agencies to consider public opinion before embarking on such infrastructure projects which involved public money.

At the fag end of the meeting, I drew the attention of all present to the fact that the reason for the meeting itself was to conserve greenery and to review the need for the signal free corridor. The alternative routes or project proposals to benefit those who were inconvenienced by the alignment planned by BDA could be discussed only after the two primary issues were addressed. Trees should be protected at all costs. I explicitly suggested that the road alignment and width must be marked out clearly so that only trees that intruded into the edge of the road could be identified and labeled. And local citizens must have a right to say no to cut any trees which do not affect the road widening work. Each tree to be felled should be marked and only that particular tree must be cut in the presence of local people. If the contractor unauthorisedly removes any unlabelled tree, then the engineer supervising the work and the contractor should be penalized appropriately and criminal proceedings should be initiated for murdering the tree. Tree cutting is a punishable offence under existing statutes and also as per orders of the Green Bench of Supreme Court of India.

The Chairman assured that he would take all necessary steps to prevent unnecessary removal of trees. The sincerity and commitment of the top officials are not in doubt. But, the same seriousness does not percolate down to the lower level supervisors who look the other way and let the contractor do what he wants. This contractor-engineer nexus should be broken.

Greenery of Bangalore is more precious and essential than the comforts and conveniences of a few elite. Before Bangalore goes bald, we need to cry a halt to development projects which necessitate reduction of green cover in Bangalore. It is indeed heartening to note that the High Court of Karnataka has supported this cause of preservation of trees and forced the government to rethink on infrastructure projects which affect greenery.

A tree is not just a green canopy providing much-needed oxygen. A tree is an ecosystem by itself. Millions of micro-organisms flourish in a tree apart from the birds, insects and reptiles that make it their home. Felling a tree uproots the lives of these living beings which have more right to live on this planet by virtue of having been here prior to evolution of mankind. Human beings have no right to degrade nature, nor cut the defenseless trees.

I hope the concerns expressed by members of the public regarding protection of trees and preservation of greenery in Bangalore are appropriately addressed while deciding on the need for the Signal-Free Corridor from Sirsi circle to Agara Lake and also in future infrastructure projects.