Between January and December 2022, at least 3,411 trees in Bengaluru were permitted to be cut to make way for development and infrastructure projects. According to data from the forest cell of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the permissions to remove these trees were given by the Tree Expert Committee to various agencies via 17 memorandums.
During the same period, a minimum of 17 public notices were also put up by agencies seeking permission to fell 5,268 trees. Some agencies that issued these notices include BBMP, BMRCL, KRIDE, South Western Railway and HAL. The nature of these projects includes construction of railway lines and buildings, drain repair, metro line construction, and stormwater drain and road widening.
Environmentalists have expressed concern over this accelerated pace of stripping the city’s green cover. They say while the idea of compensatory plantation has been sold to the public like a magic pill, it is often not the case. As the green cover in the city has not gone up.
“This is a big number considering the fact that these projects have not been able to solve the issues such as traffic congestion. More than 50-60% of these projects are for vested interests. There is no system to check how this axing is being compensated for. BBMP conducts planting programs, but what about compensatory plantations for all the road widening projects? If they want to identify and remove trees, plantations should happen before the trees are cut,” said Akshay Heblikar, Biodiversity Management Committee member and founder of ECO Watch.
What’s TEC up to?
Experts also point to a sudden spurt in such public notices over the last few months. They say that while removing trees might be necessary to execute some of the projects, for the rest, TEC must challenge the proposals. A majority of the trees being cut now can be saved, given minor changes in the projects.
“The tree expert committee and the tree officer must try a little more than what they are doing to save the trees. For instance, trees proposed to be cut on CV Raman Nagar Road must be spared. The committee should make an earnest effort by tweaking the project alignment and leaving the trees alone if they are on the side. We must accept even if trees are causing little inconvenience,” said Dattatreya Devare, trustee of Bangalore Environment Trust.
The tree expert panel and officer must try a little more than what they are doing to save trees
–Dattatreya Devara, environmentalist
Activists have also questioned the role of the TEC in giving voice to the public when it comes to cutting trees. While the High Court formulated the committee to ensure that public suggestions on tree fallings are evaluated fairly and citizens have a say in such affairs, none of it is being followed.
“They are not conducting any sustainable study. A fresh discussion on the role of TEC should happen. They should be answerable to the public. The report should be put in the public domain before they go ahead with the orders. We needed TEC to save the trees and not cut them. The trees on Jayamahal road, for instance, should have been saved,” said Vijay Nishant, founder, Project Vruksha Foundation.