Involve citizens to keep our city green
Is Bangalore a garden city or concrete jungle? : Bangalore has developed over the years but it has cost the city its green cover. Is it justifiable to cut trees to grow a city? Who should be blamed for the city's concrete quotient? DNA Conversations brought together the who's who of the city to refresh a debate that has become the city's hottest.
Would you still call Bangalore a garden city?
Arjun Unnikrishnan: Although Bangalore is losing its gardens, it can still be called a green city. But we are not green. There are cities with lesser greenery which make better efforts to maintain their green patches.
Oum Pradutt: Look at a Google shot of Bangalore. You'll see lots of green. It's a testimony of what Bangalore really is. Apart from being the pub capital and IT city of India, Bangalore is also the city of lakes. Although we are losing a lot of it, we still have about 150 lakes left. If you visit other countries, you'll see towers and buildings all around and no trees anywhere. The beautiful thing about Bangalore is that despite all the encroachments and concrete, we have massive lung spaces in the centre of the city. The military base, Cubbon Park, Bangalore Palace, Lalbagh and Race Course are situated right in the heart of the city and filled with greenery. Moreover, there are parks in every nook and corner.
Subhashini Vasanth: I don't recognise Bangalore as the city I grew up in, anymore. I've lived in the same house for 35 years and the topography has vastly changed. Independent houses, which once filled the streets with its gardens, have been converted into multi-storeyed apartments. There are many more people living in the same space and there's much more traffic, but the size of the lanes is still the same. This is happening in every part of Bangalore. The city is growing but it is unable to support the growth efficiently. So it's much more congested.
Dr DK Sudeendra: The concrete jungle has already been created. We have to live with it. Buildings are constructed in areas without even considering the size of the roads. The number of vehicles on these roads will certainly increase. But there is a silver lining. Some of the parks have been improved by the corporation. Within every kilometre, there's a park, big or small, for citizens.
Sudesh Mahan : Bangalore still is green enough. Most metros—as we have seen in India—get destroyed over a period of time and we can see Bangalore following suit. We are on our way there.
Dinesh Kumar: Bangalore has been tampered with but it's still beautiful. Every time I visit other cities in India such as Chennai, Mumbai or Delhi, I realise how comfortable we are here because of the greenery and good weather. We don't have the perfect balance but it is definitely much better than what's been done to the other metros in the country.
What are the reasons for the green deficit in the city?
Subhashini Vasanth: Instead of spreading out evenly, the city is getting cluttered every year. It is spreading fast in such a way that, for instance, there's an 8th Phase in JP Nagar. There is no urban plan for the city for next 10 years. When the civic authorities and builders realise the need for yet another layout, it is built even if it means filling up a lake or levelling a farmland. The long-term consequences of these steps are not being considered at all.
Dr DK Sudeendra: The density of vehicles on the road is exploding and they pollute the environment. We're not interested in improving the quality of our lives. There has been no planning. How do we move in and out of our homes? There is a huge apartment complex being built in Malleshwaram. It will have a mall, theatre and shops but only a double lane road that connects to it, like it used to before the building came up. There will be thousands of vehicles moving through it but the roads have not been widened.
Ravishankar Rao: We haven't had anyone to provide a direction to development. Or make a difference. Surat was a hell to live in a few years back. An IAS officer turned the place around. He made a difference. We need to have vertical movement as the city will expand. The city will keep expanding horizontally and vertically in a few years as there's no land available here.
Is a green Bangalore finally making a tradeoff with concrete bangalore?
Dinesh Kumar: Urbanisation is here to stay and can't be avoided. It can happen in a disciplined or indisciplined manner and Bangalore has chosen the latter. I believe that we can be urban and eco-friendly in the way we develop our city. There would not be a Hyde Park if eco-friendliness and urbanisation are separate.
Oum Pradutt: I've been born and brought up here and have seen the city change. As a growing city, urbanisation is something we'll have to face. We'll have to put up with all the concrete. The city is spreading out and growing horizontally as it's moving towards Mysore, Devanahalli, Electronic City and Old Madras Road. The harm being done is not as much as it is in other cities.
Subhashini Vasanth: What we live in now is the consequence of so much urbanisation and the IT boom. We should try to contain our development and spread out more evenly without losing out on our greenery. We have to strike a balance between how much concrete and green we can have. We try to save money for our children's future but 20 years later, they might not even have enough oxygen to breathe. We should take a step back and think of how to contain the growth without disturbing our environment.
Ravishankar Rao: Bangalore attracts people from other cities and it has to accommodate them. People bring in business and this, in turn, helps us to have a better quality of life. Urbanisation can't be blamed as it has many benefits.
Who should be held responsible for the green crimes in the city?
Dr DK Sudeendra: Builders are highly responsible for the compounds they are building in. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has not been able to cope with the area they are handling now. The city is expanding and the BBMP is helpless. They should at least look after the area allotted to them before they take up more responsibility. We should also try to involve everyone rather than blame sections of the society.
Arjun Unnikrishnan: It's wrong to look at builders as villains. We all build homes to live in. Houses and buildings can be planned keeping nature in mind. Most cities in India have gone beyond repair but it is not too late to start looking into this issue in Bangalore. The government needs to work with developers and planners in making blueprints. Townships are designed well but money goes to wrong places and parks and green patches disappear overnight with buildings coming up in their places.
Oum Pradutt: The policy makers are doing a good job but don't enforce it well. Maintaining cleanliness and greenery is the responsibility of the government as well as the citizens, especially when it comes to dumping trash. The government provides a door-to-door service to pick up trash and even to recycle plastic and paper. Sometimes, it is the citizens who abuse the city. They should be educated by the media about steps they should take to keep surroundings clean. Citizens should get involved.
Ravishankar Rao: There are laws that say all projects beyond a certain size should have certain amenities like water treatment, rain water harvesting, solar water heating, landscaping, children's play area and parking. Not more than 50% of the space can be used for the building to be built on. We have to get 25 to 30 clearances before we start constructing a building. It may take up to 14 months to obtain the clearances. There is nobody monitoring lawmakers to enforce these laws. Money changes hands, everyone is getting greedy and corruption is worse in the private sector than in the government.
Sudesh Mahan: There's a lot of money in land and instead of making gardens, people want to make money out of it by creating buildings. According to them, the present is important. They don't bother about the future. It's a psychological thing. We allow the eco-system to be destroyed and end up blaming builders and the government. It is the mentality of the people that should be changed before they point fingers at others.
Should trees be cut for
Dr DK Sudeendra: To build the Metro, trees have to be cut. It is impossible to build a Metro around the trees. But it doesn't mean trees can't be planted anywhere else. There are many vacant areas with lots of spaces for greenery. Saplings can easily be planted there. Instead of looking at how the situation can be improved, we keep harping on the trees being cut and the harm it creates.
Arjun Unnikrishnan: Our roads are in a mess and I agree that trees have to be cut if they're blocking roads or disrupting traffic. But there's no research going into what kind of trees are being cut or planted. Some of the trees growing on the footpath give a good cover, are linear, thin and tall, and have roots that go down instead of spreading out. Infrastructure costs are higher when roots are spread out while laying out pipes and repairing roads.
Do citizens make strong
Subhashini Vasanth: All of us have to take the responsibility for our respective areas. We should be much more involved in our civic responsibilities and really shout and say no, and refuse to let parks be replaced by buildings. At the Bangalore International Arts Festival, winners and guests were given saplings instead of bouquets. This is a good way of encouraging people to plant more trees. There are some young professionals who volunteer to help you out with gardening. They encourage you to have a small patch of green. Each of us can do a lot on our own as it makes a big difference to the city. We can't do much about what's already gone but we can take preventive measures for the future.
Oum Pradutt: When the municipal corporation said they couldn't handle the cleanliness of so many areas in Chennai, citizens from each area formed groups and cleaned up their localities. We must always replicate these plans that have worked in other places. People do feel responsible for the city and they will work towards its maintenance if you ask them to. There is a mass mentality that all of us possess traditionally. If you inspire citizens in the right direction, I'm sure they would love to be part of the green movement. Divide the city in a modular fashion and each neighbourhood will become a planner for their area. Every neighbourhood should take an initiative.
How do we save the existing greenery in the city?
Subhashini Vasanth: My 75-year-old dad started a movement of garbage disposal. We give plastic, paper and glass to recycling organisations and use the bio-degradable waste for our garden. We don't know whether all the garbage collected just gets dumped far away from the city and is left to decompose. My father has been encouraging people in the community to practise this method of disposing waste. All that's required is to take small steps like this in your daily lives. Carry a bin in the car and try maintaining a garden in your house. Teach your kids the importance of conserving the environment.
Dr DK Sudeendra: There are many changes we can make in our daily lives from which a lot of people will benefit. Plant at least one tree as it is known to absorb one ton of carbon dioxide in its lifetime. Walk whenever possible and avoid the use of transport. Switch to reusable shopping bags.
Usha Radha Krishna of Sampurnah
Coordinated by Jalaja Ramanunni