In so far greenery in the city of Bhopal is concerned things seem to be on the mend. It is no longer the whims and wishes of the Commissioner or his minions or even the political class of the Municipality who seem to have a say. The power in this respect has slipped out of their grasp and one tends to feel that greenery is likely to be better maintained when the minister for urban affairs is himself in-charge of a newly created committee dealing with this vital factor in city administration.
A report in this connection came out the other day. That the committee met so soon after its formation happens seldom in the government – especially committees dealing with matters of environment. I remember an apex committee to manage the Upper Lake was constituted by Shivraj Singh government and it had met only once since then and that too after several months of its creation. So a meeting of the committee to review the plans prepared by the Smart City Corporation chaired by the minister of urban affairs so soon after its constitution is kind of a happy augury.
Earlier, the Smart City Corporation had exhibited the mindset of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation by suggesting compensatory plantation miles away from the town in place of chopped down trees of the city. A hack had even put the question whether citizens would be required to go out of the town whenever their lungs needed the much-required oxygen. This is typical mindset of the officials of the local municipality. They merrily chop away the roadside trees and plant trees in compensation miles away from the town. According to them, the roadside trees have no importance; what they plan for is miles and miles of treeless expanse of asphalt exposed to the tropical sun heating up the environs. That, for them, is top class town-planning.
One wishes if only one could take our town-planners to Lutyen’s Delhi to show them the leafy avenues that were created by him almost a hundred years ago with the help of indigenous species of trees. For each street was chosen a particular species, for the India Gate lawns, however, they had chosen only massive Jamun (black berry) trees. In some of the avenues they had planted two rows of trees on two sides. I remember while living in Curzon Road apartments in 1970s they chopped down a row on each side to allow widening of the road consequent on traffic expansion. That leafy character of Lutyen’s Delhi still continues whereas the localities in many areas, though built up later, are devoid of trees. Only some of the recent colonies developed by DDA have, thankfully, enough greenery.
Getting back to the news report, it seems a decision has been taken to plant as many as four trees for every tree that is felled and these will be planted in the same locale where they are chopped down. This is a clear departure from the BMC mindset and is likely to take care of the micro-environment of the area where trees are chopped down.
An announcement has been made that of the 342 acres of the Smart City Area 23% will be kept green which includes 11 acres of what is called a central park. One does not know the reason behind greening of only 23% of the Smart City area with a large sized park thrown in when one knows the economic benefits of trees.
The Smart City officialdom has not been smart in this respect. Even in rich and industrially advanced countries trees had been considered as “expensive ornaments” But, of late, researches have shown that they provide staggering ecological services. Trees can cool cities by 2 degrees to 8 degrees Centigrade, trees can cut air-conditioning needs by 30% and a large tree can absorb 150 kgs of carbon dioxide every year as well as filter some pollutants including the fine particulates.
Use of open source software i-Tree has spread all over the world to assess canopy size to calculate its worth. Ideally cities should have 40% and to be able to monetise the benefits would be useful for city planners. Quoting a UK based GP and a public health expert a Guardian report explaining the reasons said “The parts of our brain we use change when we connect with nature…Our brains view cities as hostile environments. Natural scenes, by contrast, light up anterior cingulate and the insula, where empathy and altruism happen.” The report further said, “In areas with more trees people get out more, they know their neighbours more, they have less anxiety and depression” thus directly reducing public health expenditure on these ailments incidences of which have registered a sharp rise.
A re-think is, therefore, necessary for re-greening of the town. Come to think of it, it had once more than 65% of its land area under trees which has now shrunk to around 11%, and unless taken for a mend, could hit 4%, with all the ill-effects of a dry and arid town. A town that once was green and healthy cannot thus be allowed to be deteriorated and fall by the wayside.
Perhaps the minister for Urban Affairs will use his power and influence to change the way smart city officials and those of BMC look at greening of the once-green Bhopal. There is much at stake that includes the city’s climate and wellbeing of its citizens