Metro chugs along, but trees can't

Bangalore desperately needs the metro to cover long distance travel by the working class. Bangalore is also desperate that its tree cover and greenery be preserved and enhanced to maintain its salubrious climate.

The inevitability of metro though seems to have made elimination of tree and green cover also inevitable. Metro Phase I has roughly eliminated 460 trees, while Phase II is expected to do away with 700-odd trees. This is alarming because absence of green cover will make Bangalore hotter and summers would become more sultry. The city is concerned only about when the metro will roll out all over the city, not so much about loss of greenery.

Civic activist Kathyayini Chamaraj told Deccan Herald that Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) will have to plan the construction in ways that would avoid eliminating greenery because a High Court order seeking compliance with the Tree Conservation Act and Town and Country Planning Act is still in force. The Acts necessitate BMRCL to devise a scheme in advance to prevent tree cutting and hold public hearing to have people’s views on metro and greenery. “BMRCL cannot seek exemption under the Acts as the High Court order is still in force. We will insist that BMRCL adhere to the Acts ahead of the launch of Phase II work,” the activist said.

The Acts also require BMRCL to plant saplings in the same area, surrounding area or nearby before tree cutting begins. “BMRCL or BBMP can’t say they will plant saplings elsewhere or later. You cannot make the city centre bald without any greenery. This will increase heat intensity in the city centre. People will suffer. Even car parkers would like tree cover to park their cars. On all fronts BMRCL and BBMP have no reason not to take-up tree planting in advance,” says Kathyayini.

Meenakshi Bharath, activist who led protests against widening of Sankey Road, also says advance planning is crucial to reduce large-scale tree cutting and loss of greenery. “The first act should be to find out if tree cutting can be avoided based on an ecological survey. Even if you proceed to cut, cut the bare minimum, branches here and there. But leave the tree stock alone. A bald tree can rejuvenate itself on its own. So we have to look at rejuvenation closely to plan metro construction.”

Bharath argues that the city centre is being denuded. “A bare city center becomes very hot to be in. Trees will ensure a cool atmosphere. There’s no point denuding one place and planting saplings elsewhere because the very place where people work would be an oven. Also you need trees to rejuvenate the ground water and help in rains. The more greenery there is, more the possibility of rain. All these factor have to be accounted for by BMRCL.”

In all this, fortunately the stretch between South End Circle and J P Nagar first phase did not attract the tree severance programme. The trees were deep inside the parks on both sides and BMRCL managed to pull through without problems. Except for the final stretch near J P Nagar first phase where there was encroachment of the park, by and large the green strips have been spared. The metro stretch on Mysore road from the starting point of R R Nagar also saw pressure as many trees had to be cut till BHEL circle after which it turns to Vijayanagar Chord Road.

The forest cell of the BBMP has claimed that it has planted over 1.6 lakh saplings in 2012 and had targetted the same number in 2013. Most of these saplings are being planted on the fringes of the city, which over time may increase the forestry cover of areas around Bangalore. This may not influence the greenery in the city centre which will continue to remain bald, The challenge before the BBMP is how to enhance the forest cover within the city limits, how it should find space for the same and how much it can actually plant.

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