A bald and brown Bengaluru

A bald and brown Bengaluru

Once known as ‘garden city’, Bengaluru is fast turning bald, with its green cover declining at an alarming rate due to unplanned growth and the apathy of successive governments towards environmental issues. While the vegetation cover across the city is projected to reduce from 55% in 1973 to about 2.5% by 2025, the degeneration is more pronounced in Bengaluru South, where greenery has already shrunk to 2.66% from 55.17% in 1973. One of the worst impacted is Peenya Industrial Estate, where the built-up area has increased from 0.33% to 87.39%. Whitefield, once a quaint residential area populated by Anglo-Indians, has seen a decline in vegetation cover from 61.54% to 15% after it became an IT hub. These are the findings of a study, ‘Micro-level analysis of environmentally disastrous urbanisation in Bengaluru,’ conducted by the Indian Institute of Science, University of Southern California and Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur.

The last time a concerted effort was made to green the city was when Ramakrishna Hegde, chief minister in the eighties, had personally supervised a massive tree-planting drive. Since then, Bengaluru has only seen a downswing, with even the green belt around the city that comprised forests and agricultural land being replaced with high-rise monstrosities. The biggest culprits are the panchayats, which not only indiscriminately grant building approvals flouting all laws but also permit conversion of agricultural lands with standing crops for commercial purposes. Obviously, a scam of such proportions involving thousands of crores of rupees would not have been possible without the active collusion of politicians, bureaucrats, builders and panchayat authorities. If the situation in Bengaluru per se is bad, it is frightening in the outskirts as no provision is made for forests, parks or playgrounds. The government should immediately intervene and ensure that at least the remaining open spaces are preserved.

Instead of merely paying lip sympathy, the government should take the available studies seriously and draw up a long-term comprehensive blueprint to protect and sustain the environment of greater Bengaluru, including the city and its periphery. While there is a need to ensure strict compliance with the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), protect existing lung spaces and create new ones, revive lakes and undertake a massive afforestation programme, it is imperative to curtail the powers of panchayats around Bengaluru so that urban planning in the outskirts is handled by a more responsible body comprising professionals. The Bengaluru of yesteryears has changed beyond redemption, and unless urgent steps are taken, what little is left of the green cover will soon be gone, too.