Why does the government believe that progress can only come at the cost of our city’s green cover? All hope will be lost for tree-loving Bengalureans should the state have its way in felling 112 trees to widen Jayamahal Road. Activists are up in arms already, but this decision has followed too close on the heels of the much-opposed steel flyover. Citizens have no intention of giving up the fight, but we seem to be up against a government that just won’t listen.
It was only a few months ago that the city had erupted in protest over the controversial steel flyover planned from Chalukya Circle to Hebbal. While the fate of that project that threatens to remove more of its greenery is still undecided, the BBMP has caused fresh concern with its move to cut down 112 trees to widen the Jayamahal Road.
Giving the people hardly any time to ponder on the project, it has given them just 10 days to file their objections, raising the hackles of many nature lovers and activists, who see this as yet another move to ruin the environment of Bengaluru, which is barely able to carry the tag of Garden City even now.
Their worries are not unfounded as going by a report, “Environmental and ecological impact of tree felling for the proposed steel flyover on Ballari Road and road widening of Jayamahal Road,” by Prof Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli of Azim Premji University and Vijay Nishant of Project Vruksha, the city could lose as many as 2244 trees for both projects, much more than the 1688 trees claimed by the government.
Says Mr Mukunda, a member of the Citizen's Action Forum, "We have already informed our group members to file objections to the chopping of the 112 tree on Jayamahal Road as this will have great impact on the locality's environment. There could be a rise in the average temperature on the stretch, reduction in the levels of oxygen and increase in carbon-dioxide content.”
Founder member of Citizens for Bengaluru, Srinivas Alavalli believes the BBMP cannot be trusted to protect the city’s environment as not too long ago it felled mature trees and trimmed the branches of 16 others for the construction of a skywalk near the Jawaharlal planetarium. “Now it has halted the construction for want of more clarity. Why couldn't the officials have been clear on the project, heard the public's views and then gone ahead with it ? This shouldn’t be repeated with the widening of Jayamahal Road. The BBMP has invited objections via email and we will ensure that thousands reach it."
Mr Alavalli, who plans to organise a massive public protest against the cutting of the trees in Jayamahal, contends that when the issue of the steel flyover is before the National Green Tribunal, the cutting of trees is uncalled for as far as road widening is concerned.
‘Authorities will find a way to build flyover despite our protests’
With the state government seeming in a great hurry to cut trees for the proposed steel flyover and widening of Jayamahal Road, discontent is rising among green activists, who believe it has little concern for the city's environment. Some are pinning their hopes on a petition they have filed before the High Court to save what is left of its green cover.
Says an activist with the Forum for Urban Governance and Commons, Kshitji Urs, “We have petitioned the High Court to stop the state government from cutting more trees in the city. We hope it will rule in our favour. If it does, it may not be able to proceed. Hopefully wisdom will prevail and the projects will be dropped. It makes no sense to execute them.”
But green activist, Durgesh Agrahari of Say Trees is far from optimistic as he believes the government always wins in such cases. “However strong the opposition may be, it is the government which always wins in these cases. I am sure it will find a way to build the proposed steel flyover despite the objections raised,” he says dejectedly.
Accusing the authorities concerned of not doing enough to compensate for the trees cut for city projects, he adds, “Look at the Jayamahal stretch. There is a golf course adjoining it. Why doesn't the government convert it into a mini forest to compensate for the tree loss that the city will suffer as a result of the project? It is not even thinking about this as it has to satiate the needs of 500 to 1000 upper class folk who use the golf course.”
Hasiru Usiru’s, Vinay Sreenivas too accuses the state government of not caring for the city’s environment. “The law requires it to hold a public consultation on such projects but it is running away from this. It is being cowardly and in the process it could cause immense harm to the city’s environment,” he warns.
Tree officer to take call on objections
Going by sources in the BBMP forest wing, the subdivision Tree Officer will take a call on the objections filed against the tree felling for the Jayamahal Road widening project at the review meeting. If he feels the objections raised are genuine he may consider them and use his discretionary powers to reject the project. Otherwise he could give it his approval. Should he do this people can still appeal against his decision at the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests, which will hear the arguments of both parties and give its verdict.
‘Widening road inevitable’
Not all the 112 trees will be chopped for widening the Jayamahal Road, says Assistant Conservator of Forest of subdivision 1, BBMP, Shantha Kumar. Some will be relocated or transplanted, he claims.
"Of the 112 trees, some are in dangerous condition as they are very old. They may have to be removed. Also some trees are right in the middle of the road, and their removal is inevitable for the road widening. But the rest of the trees will be relocated or transplanted based on our survey," he explains. Ask him how many objections have been received to the tree felling so far, and he says 60 emails have been received on email@example.com as at 5 pm on Tuesday.
“Most of the mails have just asked us to save the trees without giving any valid reason as asked for in our notice. We have received a couple of phone-calls too. But we do not consider objections expressed over the phone and have asked the citizens concerned to email their objections or submit them in written format to the subdivision office at 17th floor, Mayo Hall,” he adds.
The officer reveals that once the 10 days given for filing of objections are up a review meeting will be held to discuss the points raised. Claiming that the tree cutting has nothing to do with the controversial steel flyover, he argues that widening of the Jayamahal Road has become inevitable owing to the rising traffic in the area. The number of trees to be cut for road widening in the area was reduced from 300 to 112 by tweaking the plan drawn up for the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS).