Shrink Bannerghatta, and Bengaluru will feel the heat

Bannerghatta Biological Park. DH Photo/S K Dinesh

The paradigm of development that takes into account only economic growth fails to take into consideration the economic cost of the environmental destruction in pursuing that development. Economic growth so far has come at huge cost. To illustrate, the total cost of environmental degradation in India is estimated at about Rs 3.75 lakh crore ($80 billion) annually.

The State of Forests in India, 2017, highlighted the gradual decline of forest land and other biodiversity. In this context, it is imperative to see the impact of the reduction of the Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) on Bengaluru city and its implications for environmental degradation. Protected Area (PA) is a mechanism through which forested lands are protected and preserved for the larger wellbeing of all living beings. National parks in India are Category II PAs established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In India, as of 2017, there were 103 PAs comprising an area of 15,600 sqm, which is a mere 1.23% of the total surface area of India.

In Karnataka, there are about 30 listed PAs, of which five are national parks. One such PA is the Bannerghatta National park (BNP), a Category II PA adjacent to Bengaluru city. Bannerghatta is a conglomerate of many reserve forests and they have been rendering innumerable and valuable ecosystem services to people all through.

Protected Areas are real lung spaces which balance the ecological cycle and influence the local climate of regions around them. BNP provides numerous services, like provision of food, fresh water, wood, medicinal plants, soil formation, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, etc. The PAs should have a pivotal role in city planning, but that isn’t the case with BNP.

The new ESZ notification cut short 100 sq km of BNP from the earlier draft of 2016. In 2016, the total area of ESZ was 268.9 sq km; it has been reduced to 168.84 sq km. There is no sufficient explanation or reasoning for this reduction. BNP, being just 22 km away from the city, contributes to the wellbeing of people in Bengaluru. However, this is one of the most neglected areas and the most-encroached park.

Bengaluru witnessed a sudden population influx post-2000 due to the growth of the IT industry and start-ups. The population of Bengaluru city has increased by 96% from 2001-11.  In 1985, the population was 3.4 million; in 2017, it stood at 12.34 million in its urban area.  

This created a lot of demand for housing, infrastructure and the resultant urbanisation, exerting huge pressure on the green spaces and lakes of the city, which slowly started to shrink or even disappear altogether. The union environment ministry’s ENVIS has noted the gradual decline of waterbodies, from 379 to 246 and 201 in 1973, 1996 and 2010, respectively. Unscrupulous construction activities are leading to fewer green spaces in the city. Bengaluru city was once known as ‘Garden City’ and a naturally ‘air-conditioned’ city, with even summer temperatures not crossing 25 degrees Celsius by much. Today, we Bengalureans witness summer temperatures soaring to 40 degrees. It is observed that there is a 74% decrease in vegetation cover in Bengaluru from 1973-2010, much of it since 1992.  

According to the norms of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), the ideal ratio of trees to humans is 1:1. As of today, the ratio is 17:100 in Bengaluru city. The city is in the list of six major polluted cities in India and has pollution levels three times more than that said to be safe by the World Health Organisation.

Vehicular pollution has increased by 257% during the last decade. This isn’t limited to the city limits but has spread to the suburbs and the preserved forest regions as well. Stringent measures are the need of the hour to conserve BNP as three mega projects are lined up near the park, namely the four-laning of Kanakapura Road, which passes through BNP; a metro rail line near BNP; and a suburban rail project coming up near it. These projects are expected to further deteriorate the already fragmented BNP. The park is also an important elephant corridor for elephants. If this elephant corridor is disturbed, it can add to the already grave issue of human-animal conflict.

Valuation 

The above facts suggest that ‘valuation’ has a critical role to play in the wake of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In order to achieve SDGs, environmental conservation is crucial. The role of Protected Areas in achieving the SDGs as per the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD, 2008) — “in order to achieve their potential both to conserve biodiversity and to assist in reducing poverty, Protected Areas should be integrated within a broad sustainable development planning agenda.”

However, currently, policymakers do not seem to evince interest in formulating policies on the basis of the economic instruments of valuation. Economic motivation is one of the potential ways to influence policymakers in formulating conservation policies for better management of PAs.

An important caveat is that although valuation is a potential tool, however, much depends upon the existing policy framework and institutional arrangements of PAs. If the institutional arrangements are not able to accommodate the findings of economic valuation, then the management and governance of PAs become poor.

Economic valuation is necessary to improve the efficiency of allocation of natural resources and the effective utilisation of ecosystem services. 

(The writer is a PhD Scholar in Development Studies, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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