The news has just come in that the trees in Bhopal are getting massacred once again - in the name of development. The heritage complex of Minto Hall, the old Legislative Assembly complex, is being converted into a convention centre and a plush hotel. The project is being carried out by the MP Tourism Development Corporation.
Practically the entire complex has been warded off by tall galvanized corrugated sheets hence nothing is visible from outside and one does not know what exactly is going on inside. The complex had hundreds of trees in its park-like front yard - some native and others decorative, some tall like palms and other stocky like neem and others. According to the reports the front-yard is likely to be redesigned and for that purpose the trees that are currently there have to go. It seems nails had been driven in the trunks of the trees sometime back to kill them and now the trees are slowly dying. They have virtually been crucified.
This is not all as it is only about the front yard. Behind the building the road that runs hugging the Lower Lake had thousands of trees with dense growth. To facilitate access to the hotel-cum-convention centre they have widened the road. In doing so the huge trees with dense foliage that were coming in the way have been mercilessly removed. Shorn of the greenery, the place now looks bald and bare. And one can be sure, that it is going to look like this for years as compensatory planting is not going to take place in a jiffy.
Trees, despite their significant contribution to the local environment, are the things that face the axe first. Having been denuded of trees in South TT Nagar by the Gammon India’s Central Business District it is now the turn of North TT Nagar. Here the old residential buildings have been razed to the ground and axes and bulldozers are yet to follow for the new Smart City. Here, as indeed elsewhere, every house had one or more trees around it – full grown and shady – planted by the residents who have now left. Quite clearly, trees are considered essential for healthy living. Trees are described as Life Force and yet they are felled mercilessly for the sake of “Development”. One feels no human development in an urban area can take place without trees and greenery.
One more assault on trees seems to be coming soon. The development bug is coming to the old city near the Cambridge School. The old government bungalows of Pari Bazar next to the school are being demolished. Here, too like the other settlements in Bhopal, there are huge trees in every compound. As these houses were lived-in for much more than half a century, the place is a paradise of greenery. Men of the local authorities are, however, sharpening their axes as the structures are being progressively grounded. A few more hundred trees are going to be sacrificed for optimal use of the precious land.
One wonders as to why the existing trees are not saved and urban areas built around them. More than fifty years ago my eldest brother, who was the collector of Bilaspur district, had taken me to Korba, a new township that came up for the workers of the newly installed Korba Thermal Power Plant. Everyone knows that coal is found mostly underneath thickly forested areas. The chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board, SN Mehta saw to it that trees were not felled randomly. Only those which came in the way of putting up the structures could be felled. So what I saw was a beautiful township with small bungalows prettily situated in small compounds along with teak trees around them. This only happened because of Mehta’s acute concern for the environment in an area where coal ash pollution was likely to be severe.
One tends to feel that municipal and government bosses and their civil engineering colleagues need to be guided properly to display a bit of concern for the trees. Bhopal has already lost heavily in so far as greenery in the town is concerned. From 67% of the land area covered by trees the city has touched a low of only 11%. And yet felling of trees is continuing unabated. It seems nobody has any concern for the micro-climate of the city, its underground water sources and the general health of those who will reside in such stark and bare environment, more so in the days of rising temperatures with added stress of water scarcity. Already, it has been reported that during the last 50 years the last five have been the hottest.