Environmental ignorance is pretty widespread in this country. Unfortunately, even the people in responsible positions display this ignorance. One wonders whether environment should become a compulsory subject of study for children in their school years. A grasp of the elements that make our environment seems to have become necessary in the current times as many of our actions interfere with it to make our life eventually perilous for us.
An elected official of the Assembly, clearly, does not know that bringing down a full grown tree cannot be compensated by simply planting saplings. While with the felling of a decades old tree destroys its ecology, it could also be the nemesis for the organisms that find shelter in and around it and prosper because of its benign help. Numerous micro habitats find support for themselves in a tree; it also provides on the ground below a different kind of habitat in the shape of leaf-litter, decaying wood discarded by the tree and so on.
There are trees that support some specialized kind of invertebrates. Hence a tree is just not a part of the landscape, it is a living and thriving universe for the organisms that inhabit its ecosystem. And the whole thing – the tree and its ecosystem – contributes in its own unobtrusive way to the larger ecosystem in which we and many other organisms live out our lives.
This is being stated in the context of the ongoing controversy regarding felling a few hundred trees for construction of rest houses/living quarters for the honourable members of the state Legislative Assembly. The proposal in this regard went into cold storage after the term of the last assembly came to an end. It was the Speaker of the last Assembly who had initiated the proposal but withdrew it when there was a furore in the media about felling of trees. But by the time he agreed to withdraw his proposal a thousand-odd trees had reportedly been already cut down.
Damage had been done but the consolation was that the Speaker was amenable to reason who quietly put the lid on the whole thing.
The current speaker is apparently not so malleable. He has spared none, including a former chief secretary who runs a redoubtable NGO that handles work relating to human settlements. And, trees – their existence or otherwise – have everything to do with humans and their settlements. She, therefore, had every reason to come out in the media and speak her mind about and against the proposal.
People of Bhopal have now become sensitive about cutting down of trees. Perhaps, the last summer was what broke the camel’s back with its searing heat. That is when the citizens realized how loss of trees in thousands for several developmental projects (many misconceived) has adversely affected the city’s climate. The green cover of the city that was once more than 60% has now been reduced to only 11% and, if not checked, is likely to go down further close to a dangerous 4%. The citizens of this town fear for that summer day when the sun will fiercely beat down on the city to make it boil in its stark and bald surface bereft of greenery inflicting misery and pain to them.
Clearly, there is no scope for felling more trees in the city even if it happened to be for the sake of the highest dignitary of the land, leave alone the members of the Legislative Assembly. In fact, there is a need for planting of more trees in a campaign mode (like that of Swachha Bharat) so that in another ten or fifteen years the town regains its green cover. If the honourable members have to be provided in the meantime new rest houses or living quarters let the Speaker go and look for open vacant land in the town and negotiate with the government for construction on it. It is not necessary that the living accommodation for the honourable members should be provided only on Arera Hills. Enough damage has already been done to these Hills; it cannot be degraded any more.