Time to stand up for B’luru’s trees

The BBMP forest department’s statistics say that over 17,000 trees were cut down in the past decade to build flyovers, Namma Metro and to widen roads. This is in addition to over 11,000 trees that were cut down by the public and busybody politicians, who deemed them decayed and unstable.

With the vegetation cover in Bengaluru shrinking by the day, the future doesn’t at all look bright for the popular avenue raintrees, with their leafy canopy; the Gulmohars, the “fire of the forests”; the Ashokas, with their tall, skinny frame and drooping leaves; the Pink Cassias, with their gorgeous flowers; the yellow flowering Tabebuia trees, or the purple Jacaranda trees, that wait for the spring to burst out into colour.

In rapidly growing Bengaluru, to accommodate the demands of a growing population, we are decimating arching canopies of trees, shrinking avenues named after the Sampige (champaka) and Margosa (neem), chopping silver oaks in the iconic Cubbon Park, and we are not even sparing the Lalbagh botanical gardens
that date back to the time of Hyder Ali!

Older trees are actually habitats that attract birds, arboreal animals, insects, butterflies and birds. They moderate the micro-climate by ensuring greater circulation of air, allowing percolation of water around their roots, absorbing greenhouse gases and enhancing visual appeal, besides acting as sound barriers and wind-breakers! Thoughtless felling leads to a temperature rise that then requires us to install air conditioners to cool homes and offices.

For healthy respiration, a ratio of eight trees for each person should be maintained. Bengaluru has only 17 trees for a hundred people. Even worse, Bengaluru’s central business district has less than one tree for every 500 people, which is perhaps the cause of enhanced levels of asthma, obesity and other health issues.

True, we have the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976, to control the indiscriminate felling of trees without the prior permission of a Tree Officer. Unfortunately, the Act is already outdated and too porous to effectively stop the felling of trees for road-widening or building flyovers. Ironically, there is a constant attempt to amend the Act by introducing exemption after exemption of biologically important species from the list of trees to be preserved.

The advertisement mafia is a big offender. They fell trees overnight to make way for new advertisement hoardings or even to increase the visibility of existing hoardings. Recently, trees were hacked on Outer Ring Road to advertise a realty project. The hoarding was
taken down for a while after a spot-check by the BBMP Forest Cell officials, but it was up again very soon!

Similarly, several trees were chopped on the road connecting Marathahalli to make a mobile phone hoarding visible. Here, too, after an FIR was filed, the hoarding was brought down for a while, only to be put up again. This brazenness of the advertising mafia must be curbed, not only by punishing the advertising agency, but by also holding its client responsible.

Another breed of advertisers makes liberal use of tree trunks, plastering their advertisement and defacing trees. Nails are driven into the trees to hold the advertisement in place.

Namma Metro is hugely responsible for the axing of trees. The Metro identifies hundreds of trees to be chopped every time there is a line expansion, talking grandly of transplanting trees and compensating for felled ones by planting saplings.

The way forward

Big trees lose a significant portion of their roots when transplanted, making it that much harder to bounce back in the new location. Also, can a small sapling replace a 150-year-old tree and compensate for the shade and shelter it had been providing?

With trees standing at the mercy of urban local bodies, infrastructure project developers and the advertising mafia, despite a Tree Preservation Act being in place, what can we do to ensure Bengaluru’s green cover does not deteriorate further?

One, if thousands of us — environmental activists, resident welfare association members and the media — mount a defence against felling of mature street trees by pressuring
Namma Metro, BBMP and BDA, they will be forced to reconsider their plans and not cut Bengaluru’s trees.

Two, we should insist that the government undertakes a tree census and create an on-line database that will help us track the trees in our locality and reach officials to save the ones in distress.

Three, when trees are chopped to improve the visibility of hoardings, we should ensure that the advertising agency is punished and the product advertiser using the agency made a “co-accused”. This will prevent the brazen manner in which the hoardings reappear after an interlude.

As citizens and custodians of our shared environment,
we need to work together to
help protect our trees and environment. If we do not pay attention to the well-being of Bengaluru, we will end up paying a great price.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Sai Vidya Institute of Technology, Bengaluru)

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