More green cover, gardens, but fewer native trees; forests dwindle

Human habitations are encroaching upon the farm land and orchards of fringe villages. The most suffered habitat type has perhaps been riverine vegetation, especially babul (Acacia nilotica) tree groves along the rivers of Mula and Pawana.

Written by Garima Mishra | Pune | Published:July 7, 2017 6:19 am
Once a barren rocky hill, the ILS Hill has been transformed into a thick forest with rich biodiversity and a variety of vegetation. The credit goes to the founders of the Indian Law Society and their successors for their relentless efforts towards planting trees from 1930s till date.

While many Puneites believe that rampant development has led to the depletion of green cover over the past few decades, environment experts feel that in the last 20 years, green cover has increased substantially in the city. But there’s also a downside to it.

Development v/s ecosystem

While hills across the city have seen a significant increase in green cover, the forests on the outskirts of the city have depleted. A research paper published 11 years ago in 2006 by city-based botanists Mandar N Datar and Vinaya Ghate, on the ‘Changing floristic diversity of Katraj Hill in Pune’, states, “During British period, most of the fuel wood for the army was brought from Katraj hill area and the activity is still continued today by local people. Large forest areas have been lost due to this activity and has disturbed other associated species. Katraj Ghat is the southernmost boundary of Pune city and is changing very fast due to ever-growing urban development and road widening. Residential constructions, arrival of new industries and allied activities are also increasing at a faster rate. These ever-growing settlements have reached almost one-third of the pass. Road widening is one of the major activities and is almost a continuous process observed in this area in order to facilitate day-to-day increasing transport, which is the major cause for significant change in biodiversity.”

A research study spearheaded by Garware college faculty and students in 2000, published by the Research and Action in Natural Wealth Administration (RANWA), states “Pune urban area has been expanding at an average rate of about 500 m per year for the last two decades or so. Human habitations are encroaching upon the farm land and orchards of fringe villages. The most suffered habitat type has perhaps been riverine vegetation, especially babul (Acacia nilotica) tree groves along the rivers of Mula and Pawana. Grassland and scrub in the eastern outskirts have also been severely destroyed. There is heavy pressure on scrub and forest in the hill for fuel wood, especially near the hutment e.g. Kelewadi slum adjoining Bhamburda forest park, Mutha canal slums near Parvati-Pachgaon. Bootleggers located in the hills are also responsible for tree cutting…”.

The Pune-based Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS), in its 2013 report on the status of forests in the northern Western Ghats, have estimated the extent of forests at 12,043 sq km, of which 6,020 sq km are under tree cover while the remaining area is in the category of scrub and open forest. An area of 5,794 sq km of private forests comes under forest department. n n n Green cover has increased, but… Madhav Gadgil, renowned environmentalist, says, “Technically speaking, the green cover of the city has increased over the past two decades. However, native tree species such as Cohchlo Spermum and Salai, which were abundant earlier, have reduced substantially now. They have been taken over by exotic species like Subabul, Glyrecedia and Melano Xylon. While Melano Xylon was introduced by one horticulturist in the Pune University campus, the other two species were planted by the forest department. These exotic species have spread across the city and have encroached into the growth of indigenous trees.”

According to Swati Gole from the Ecological Society of India, the green cover on the hills has increased a lot in the past decades, but these comprise mostly non-native trees which, she says, is not a good sign. In other parts of the city, most open spaces have been used to build something for commercial purposes. “Trees have been planted in an unplanned and uninformed manner. For instance, Pashan Lake, a wetland, should have been developed as a wetland. Instead, crores were spent to beautify it and natural habitats got destroyed,” she says.

Dharmaraj Patil, a bird watcher and wildlife researcher, says that Pashan Lake was once a beautiful abode of birds, both local as well migratory. But the PMC’s ambitious project led to the destruction of many habitats and microhabitats at the lake, which resulted in a reduction in the number of birds visiting the lake. “Birds like Wagtails, which were in flocks of hundreds, are now fewer in number. Similar has been the impact on migratory ducks… Waders’ habitat (ie. of sandpipers, snipes, stilts, stints etc) has been destroyed during this project,” he says.

Positively speaking 

On a positive note, in the last 20 years, the number of gardens in the city has grown by over four times. While Pune had only 33 gardens 20 years ago, there are 183 gardens now, said PMC Garden Superintendent Ashok Ghorpade. Some of the gardens that were built more than 20 years ago and still exist include Peshawe Park (Sadashiv Peth, 1956), Sarasbaug (Sadashiv Peth, 1952), Shreemant Bhairavsingh Ghorpade Garden (Ghorpadi, 1955), Krantishalaka Aruna Asafali Garden (Maharshi Nagar, 1996), and Late Kakasaheb Gadgil Garden (Padmavati, 1989), among others.

Pointing out another positive development that has led to an increase in green cover, Gadgil said, “Green activists in some parts of the city, for example those who reside on the stretch from Law College Road till Chandni Chowk, have been very active in terms of stopping the felling of trees,” he said.

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