Friday, May 30, 2008

Road-widening has cost us 700 trees

Road-widening has cost us 700 trees

Deepa Kurup

More foliage will be imperilled as 91 roads are set to be widened

— Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Easing congestion: Road-widening work in progress on Racecourse Road in Bangalore on Thursday.

BANGALORE: It is official. Nearly 700 trees, much loved for their vintage and comforting foliage, have been felled on four roads: Bellary Road, Racecourse Road, Sarjapur Road and Lashkar Road. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike has confirmed that 91 roads are set to be widened, with 10 by the end of the year.

Even though in October last, the Deputy Conservator of Forests issued an order to stop work on Palace Road and Seshadri Road, both make it to the list of roads which will be widened soon. Nearly 100 trees have been notified to be auctioned. These orders followed a site inspection of Palace Road and Seshadri Road by Subbarayan Prasanna of the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore which found the plans ambiguous and lacking in detail.

Questioning the very rationale of road widening as an answer to traffic woes, Prof. Prasanna says: “The expansion plan does not explain performance standards or maintenance plans in terms of carrying capacity or velocity of traffic over the years.” For instance, on Palace Road, the widening plans are careful to avoid a mosque and a temple, both of which are encroachments. On Kasturba Road, rain trees and ficus will face the axe, while a temple will be retained, thereby creating another bottleneck.The BBMP proposes to increase vehicle speed from eight to 40 km per hour, according to a response obtained under the Right to Information Act. It envisages an expenditure of Rs. 8 crore to Rs. 10 crore per km, which far exceeds its budgetary allocation of Rs. 40 crore this year for road-widening.

Interestingly, while the draft version of the Master Plan (2005) does not mention road width, the final draft released in 2007 shows that the roads will be widened by 25 to 45 metres, which translates into cutting down open space by nearly 500 hectares by 2015.

BBMP Tree Officer S. Shekhar says that they will undertake a massive tree planting activity in parks and open spaces in the city. “We have transplanted 70 trees, of which 50 survived and we will work with NGOs and the public to replant,” he says.

However, the transplanting exercise has been criticised by experts who say that the replanting success rate has been quite low.

The post of the tree officer itself, constituted in 2004, has come under criticism. “By taking away powers from the Forest Department, they have made it easier for the BBMP to cut trees. He has admitted that he is under pressure to sanction tree-cutting,” alleges Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group.

The Karnataka High Court in 2005 directed the BBMP to involve people in all decisions involving roads and trees, but the Hasiru Usiru network, which anchors several NGOs, alleges that it was kept in the dark.


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