Three years after the report on the study of the Indian Institute of Science on Bhopal’s tree cover was published the authorities seemed to have woken up and have shown signs of stirring. The initiative to save the city’s green ambience has come, of all the people, from none other than the Divisional Commissioner, Bhopal.
It might be recalled that three years ago the Times of India published a report on the study conducted by the distinguished faculty of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, which undertook the same study simultaneously for three other cities in addition to Bhopal. The study related to a span of two decades during which the heaviest loss of tree cover was revealed in Bhopal – from 66% to 22% of the city’s area – and it was predicted that it was likely to fall to 11% by 2018 and could have a sharper fall hitting around 4% by 2030. Other cities that were studied were Kolkata, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. None of these had a tree cover of 66% two decades ago – only Ahmedabad had 46% and it fell to 24%.
Environmentalists of the city were shocked to see the ToI report. Some of them had made their own assessments keeping for reference more or less the same parameters and felt that the proposition of 11% tree cover by 2018 was entirely possible. A noted environmentalist of the city Subhash C Pandey who is fighting to get back the city’s green cover said that unplanned urbanization, encroachment of natural water bodies in the city, depletion of ground and surface water show that the plan of sustainable development has failed.
One wonders whether there was any plan for development, more so, of sustainable development. Concerned about the continuous loss of tree cover in the city one is inclined to believe that the authorities connected with maintenance of environmental balance of the city are ignorant of the term “sustainable development”. Every action of the city administrators is taken on an ad hoc basis without proper examination of the pros and cons. No wonder, most of the decisions of the city administrators suffer from lack of prudence or wisdom, adversely impacting the normal and healthy life of the citizens.
Take for instance the BRTS corridor which came up around a dozen years ago and continues to be a work in progress. At the very initial stage, while defining the corridor as many as 3000 huge old trees were felled. Some were attempted to be translocated but for want of the necessary expertise coupled with proper equipment many dug up trees died. This was the first major strike against the greenery in the town. The uninformed commissioner of the municipal corporation was satisfied with the action that his outfit took in greening a hill outside the city forgetting that roadside trees offer their own advantage to the citizens, particularly, by keeping the urban areas cool.
The second major strike against the city’s greenery came by way of the development of a business district by Gammon India Ltd., followed by the creation of a smart city in Bhopal. The smart city organization opted for redevelopment instead of retrofitting and in the process a few more thousands of trees were axed.
This is not all; in the name of development, urban sprawl was allowed to spread its wings all around the town and no one knows how many trees were sacrificed for the sake of colonies that were legitimate or illegitimate. Then , of course, there are isolated developments like conversion of Minto Hall into a convention centre and a starred hotel for which the dense growth of trees next to the Lower Lake was destroyed. The authorities in this town are happy to remove greenery from wherever they can, damaging the micro-climate of the town. Protests do take place but these were effective only in one respect when the site of the smart city was moved from Shivaji & Tulsi nagars saving axing of thousands of trees.
Many of the environmentalists agree with the findings of the IISc as they too had studied the problem keeping in view more or less the same parameters and had come to the conclusion of a rise in temperature by 8 degrees Celsius in 12 years. Hence one can only say that time is running out and the initiative of the Commissioner, though comming as many as three years after the findings of the IISc were published, came not a day too soon. We just do not have the luxury of time with us and sooner the initiative is translated into action the better it would be. Otherwise, the maximum temperature will in all probability hit close to 50 degrees Celsius in not too distant future. Already, April 2019 is being considered as hottest April in Bhopal with temperatures topping 40 degrees C and nothing is more responsible for the city’s this predicament than felling of large number of trees.
The Commissioner has reportedly given the responsibility of planting around six lakh trees inside the town to three entities including the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and the Capital Projects Authority. One is aware how these civic bodies suffer from inertia and how their functioning is lackadaisical. Their functioning in this regard has to be monitored so that planting and nursing of the plants are taken care of under tight supervision. Perhaps, the young minister of Urban Administration & Development could evince interest in the matter making the subordinates give all that they have towards a veritable war on progressively heating once-salubrious Bhopal.