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Bhopal Notes :: 50 :: Disappearing trees of Bhopal

I have already written about one of the more significant statements of Murati Bapu, the Hindu religious leader who goes about giving religious and ethical discourses drawn mainly from Hindu epics. In another of his well-attended talks he was reported to have said that needless felling of trees is like killing a “sadhu” (a saint or an ascetic). He said that in the epic “Ram Charit Manas” saints have been said to be like trees, rivers, hills, etc. because, basically, they are benevolent, charitable, munificent and kind. They only do good to everybody and to everything in the physical world. They do not take away anything from anybody and being beneficent they only hand out means of sustenance to the world. That is why he says that cutting down a tree is like killing something which is beneficial to us or something which is a do-gooder for everybody.

It seems, he had chosen just about the right venue for talking about felling of trees. Here in Bhopal the government and its agencies like the municipal corporation are ‘axe-happy’ in the same manner as people can sometimes be trigger-happy. On the slightest provocation they will go and bring down trees. They hardly ever think of saving a tree. Bhopal has lost enormous number of trees during the last decade or so.

Thousands of trees in the city were felled for the BRTS corridor which, as expected, has not lived up to its declared intentions of easing out the traffic mess in the city. Trees were felled for laying the Narmada pipeline to improve the water supply in the town. This too has not lived up to its announced objective as only recently it was in the news that despite water being brought all the way from Narmada some areas of the city still suffer from water shortages. Then for the laying of the third railway track between Bina and Bhopal a few more thousand trees in and around the city were cut down. A news item recently said that about 800 more trees are needed to be eliminated before completion of the project. Then, of course, there are usual felling of trees for widening of city roads and limitless urban expansion that the city has witnessed. During implementation of these projects no one ever thought of saving even the trees that could well stand wherever they were or relocating those which were decades old with a huge canopy hosting myriad species.

No wonder, a recent news report came out with a startling fact. It said that Bhopal’s green cover has shrunk from 66% to 22% in two decades. This discovery has been made as a result of a study undertaken by the reputed institution, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc), and the newspaper called its findings “Bhopal’s dark truth”. The study predicts that by 2018 the tree cover will shrink to 11% of the city’s area and by 2030 it will be a mere 4.10%. The study was reported to have been conducted by satellite borne sensors which compared images over decades and modelled past and future growth to determine rate of growth of urbanization in cities.

These figures prove that the city has progressively been denuded of trees by unplanned urbanization. Expansion of the city has taken its toll on the surrounding green hills and neighbouring farmlands. The city, in the process, lost its equable climate that was most suited for elders like yours truly. It was devoid of the extremes of temperatures, both in summers and in winters. While in summers it would not be as hot as, say, Gwalior; during winters it would not be as severely cold as Delhi. All that has been lost because of the mindless felling of trees in the pursuit of expansion and development. Our own home-based environmentalist, Subhash C, Pandey says “If I relate my study of rise in temperature to 8% in 12 years where the parametres were the same” the predicted shrinkage in tree cover to 11% “though shocking, is very much possible”.

This catastrophic situation has come about because of the environmental illiteracy of the local politicians and the bureaucracy, utter lack of foresight and the proclivity among them to make a quick buck by opening up the city for a construction spree. While colonies after new colonies were being sanctioned nobody seems to have bothered to insist on the builders to save the trees and plant trees around the built-up areas to compensate for the lost greenery. The government only had one Late Mahesh Buch who ‘greened’ the entire Arera Hill after the 74 Bungalows were built. Others never seemed to have bothered though they went on sanctioning opening up of more and more areas in the surrounding hills, farmlands and valleys for construction. The government must have had all the information about the disaster the town would face in the wake of unrestrained colonization of virgin hills and green valleys. It has an environmental think tank in the shape of Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO) and yet none seemed to have bothered.

The findings of the Indian Institute of Science cannot be taken lightly. After all, many of the effects of tree-loss in a massive scale are already perceptible. The city is already facing extreme heat in summers and the last winter too was extraordinary. But the government seems to be unconcerned. The IIsc report came out in the last week of last March but so far there has been no reaction. No one expects any reaction from the local Municipal Corporation which is always ready with axes in the hands of its employees but are not worried or aware of the consequences of their actions. But the environmental department of the government should have reacted and at least said that the report would be examined for action. The government departments are, however, notorious for allowing various important reports pending for long periods. The example of the report of the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) is already before the people of the city. Nothing can really move the government. So, quite evidently it is business as usual – preemptive steps, if any, can wait till the city becomes an arid desert.

Surely, everybody in the government knows the consequences of shrinking tree cover. Not only there will be rise in temperature, there will also be water shortages. Even the ground water levels are likely to dip to precarious levels due to absence of trees. The rise in demand for energy would increase atmospheric pollution. And then the scourge of air pollution will take over with dry dust being freely blown around by the breeze carrying pm10 and pm2.5 right into the lungs of the citizens.

Murari Bapu may not have mentioned them but there are immense benefits that the trees bestow on humanity. An internet site has enumerated top 22 benefits of a tree some of the important ones being : trees clean air, they provide oxygen, trees conserve energy, they also cool the streets and the city, trees save water and prevent water pollution, they help prevent soil erosion, they provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife and, above all, they combat climate change.

One wonders whether those in the government would pay heed and act on what the IISc study revealed and stop felling of trees by enacting a law and plant as many trees as possible. The chief minister had announced two years back that a crore of trees would be planted in the city. Nobody knows whether that announcement was really followed up by action. This year he has raised the number to two crores to be planted along the banks of Narmada. Perhaps that too will also remain as an announcement.

In the absence of any official action one is inclined to think that only a strong civil society movement can force the government to take remedial action. One recalls the movement 2015 which forced the government to change the site for the proposed smart city. The movement was centred around cutting down of the green cover of Shivaji Nagar. Some such movement would make the government to see reason.

*photo from internet

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Proloy Kumar Bagchi


Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Once a civil servant, now a freelance columnist, blogger and a citizen journalist

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