Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hug 'n' save

Hug 'n' save
The Hindu

If you see trees being felled, don't just sit back; take the initiative. Here's the story of how citizens stalled the felling on Residency Road and how you can get involved

Bangalore's passive citizens have now become active, tree-hugging, protesting citizens. After over 700 trees were felled on Residency Road, ostensibly because they were impeding the flow of traffic, residents, students and environmental groups got together to make their voice heard. They circled trees, climbed on them and used them as a backdrop for street theatre — till finally the BMP Commissioner has agreed to withdraw the felling order.

The protest on Residency Road began when some passers-by saw trees being felled. Students from nearby colleges gathered the initiative to stop more felling gained momentum. Lending her voice to the protests was Nalini Ramanna, a concerned citizen who says she "has always been fighting to save the environment".

Despite not being an "environmentalist", Nalini is acutely aware of the impact cutting trees will have on the smog and the weather in the city. "Roadside trees are under the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) and any citizen has the right to find out whose permission has been taken to fell the trees," she says. "Even a house-owner has to have permission to prune trees above three metres in diameter, and if they don't have the permission letter, I can call and find out why the trees are being cut."

Making people responsible

Nalini also echoes a concern shared by well-known environmental groups such as the Environment Support Group (ESG) — why large schools in the city don't create a system which allows cars to enter the premises and drop off kids rather than park on the already congested roads, causing jams which lead civic authorities to broaden roads by cutting trees. "Basement parking should be made compulsory for schools as well," says Nalini. "If traffic is the main reason for targeting trees, well, surely there are alternatives? Why aren't people controlling the bad drivers who create chaos on the streets for example? If deserts across the world are being made green, why are we making Bangalore a desert?"

Trees are often compromised to make space for a construction and cut at night when there is least chance of concerned citizens protesting. "The felling order can only be given by the Tree Officer," explains Bhargavi S. Rao, Assistant Co-ordinator with ESG, "and he sends out RFOs (Range Forest Officers) to physically examine the trees before any action is taken." The BMP can act under the Municipal Act to prune trees and remove the dangerous ones, she states. The ESG has called RFOs even at 2 a.m. when they hear of a tree being cut and managed to avert illegal felling.

To involve citizens with issues concerning development (road widening, traffic congestion etc.), the ESG plans to work with the BMP to form task forces including concerned citizens who can lend their expertise and form a more active role in shaping decision-making processes.

# If you see a tree being felled you can ask to see the permission to do so

# If this is refused to you, contact the RFO (Range Forest Officer) in your area

# Unsafe trees can be inspected to ascertain their state; contact the Tree Officer at Aranya Bhavan. Ph: 23343464

# Contact the Environment Support Group for doubts or advice at www.esgindia.org

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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