With over a thousand trees being felled and another thousand ready to face the axe for ‘development’ purposes in Bengaluru, environmentalists, citizens, and student groups have decided to hold hands together to protest the proposed action put forth by Karnataka government.
According to the data from the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), over 8,200 trees will be cut for various projects including road widening, construction of new bridges and elevated roads. Incidentally, the number is expected to be higher as the proposal excludes the last stretch on the Attibele-Sarjapura Road proposed for road widening as well.
Sandeep Anirudhan, a member of the United Conservation Movement, one among the several civic groups protesting the move, terms the plan as “Ring of Death” for Bengaluru.
He said, “Bengaluru is a city without plans. It is high time that the entire district had an integrated Sustainable Development Plan – including ecology, industry, and mobility as strategic points. Plans that focus on mass transit solutions that will not require roads to be widened, or trees to be cut should be thought of, with ecology at the center of planning.”
A student protester from a school in Sarjapur told indianexpress.com, “When different studies indicate that the city has lost out over 97 per cent of its green cover, it is unfortunate to see the government trying to axe trees from the remaining 3 per cent as well. The city has already become unlivable.”
A human chain protest led by students took place in the city last week, as a precursor to more protests being planned in the upcoming days.
Accusing KRDCL of not getting environmental clearance for the same, Deepanjali Naik, from Voice of Sarjapura, another civic group, said, “The proposal indicates the absence of a proper environmental impact assessment being done before giving tenders for road widening in haste. As the temperature in the area has always been on the rise even with these big trees in the area, we are inviting more trouble by axing them.”
She added that at least 300 heritage trees, some of which are as old as 80 years, are ready to be cut along the seven-kilometre stretch from Attibele to Sarjapur on the outskirts of the city. “These old and big trees include indigenous varieties of banyan, tamarind, neem, peepal, and jamun among others, some that even cover an area of a building giving shade keeping air quality under control. While old buildings are considered ‘heritage’, one should not deny the fact that these trees also account for the same as they preserve the old-world charm of the city,” she added.
While KRDCL plans include doubling the two-lane Attibele-Sarjapur road and adding two more lanes to the already four-lane Sarjapur-Dommasandra road, residents of the area feel all this was never a necessity.
Meanwhile, citizens raise yet another concern – acute water shortage. “As the development of these roads would further encourage more apartment complexes to be set up in these areas, an increase in population density would also add to the water scarcity we face,” Naik added.
While environmentalists claim that groundwater is available only at the depth of 1,500 feet at these areas at present, the situation is “alarming” according to studies by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) which indicate non-availability of water to almost 50 per cent of the city in the coming years.
Coincidentally, surveying work of the roads took place even as the human chain protests led by Greta Thunberg-inspired ‘Fridays for Future’ continued on the Sarjapur-Attibele stretch last week.
This has also led to protests on social media with an online petition on Jhatkaa.org demanding an immediate stay on the felling of trees. The petition has managed to collect over 2,500 signatures till now. Among other demands, “proper and accessible” public consultation for all projects has also been raised.
According to the online petition, air pollution has risen drastically in Bengaluru, due to construction dust, garbage burning and the rise in private vehicles leading to more emissions in the last two years. “In the midst of this, the city’s old trees are a natural buffer and their loss for development projects will lead to worsening impact of climate change, not to mention the health effects of air pollution,” the petition said.
It may be recalled that several trees that were marked for cutting were later translocated in 2017 after citizens protested tree-felling for road development in Sarjapur. However, according to KRDCL plans, the share of trees earmarked for translocation for projects beginning this year amount to a meagre seven per cent as thousands of trees are ready to be felled soon in Bengaluru.
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