Why are Bangalore’s trees falling?

In the last one year – between April 2010 and March 2011 – 493 trees fell due to ‘natural causes’ in Bengaluru, according to BBMP. In the same period, branches of another 728 trees fell.

Mangled mess in a Koramangala park after a heavy downpour last week, with gusty winds. Pic: J Srinivasan.

In addition to trees lost for road widening and infrastructure projects, why are we losing so many more?

Urban ecologist and scholar Harini Nagendra, 39, says that urban trees generally have shorter life spans due to stress; this combined with unscientific trimming of trees, cementing of pavements choking tree roots and pollution, cause trees to fall.

Harini is a researcher of growing repute. She is a co-author of papers with US-based political scientist Elinor Ostrom, Nobel prize winner for Economics in 2009.

Harini Nagendra, is an urban ecologist. File Pic: CM

"Trees become unstable if roots can’t grow deeper and extensively. Improper trimming of branches to prevent conflict with electricity lines buildings, tilts the balance of trees making them more vulnerable," she says. Trees also get punctured by nails and metal rods, which can lead to infection. Pollution restricts trees’ intake of water and metabolism, and causes leaves to fall early.

J Srinivasan, 61, a retired Koramangala-based entrepreneur, says that pruning should be done not only to save electricity lines, but the trees themselves too. "BBMP’s Forest Department does not heed citizens’ appeals to prune trees. Balanced pruning of excess height and overhang of branches is necessary to protect trees," he says.

J Srinivasan, photographed the tree falls due to rains. File Pic: CM

Srinivasan captured an album full of photographs on last week’s mess caused in Koramangala by tree and electricity pole falls, following gusty winds and rains. Aptly, he named his album ‘Mini Tornado’.

But BBMP cannot do much about pruning problems as BESCOM is responsible for much of the improper pruning, says M Puttaswamy, Deputy Commissioner of Forests (South) in BBMP. Under his jurisdiction, which includes south, west, Bommanahalli and Rajarajeshwari Nagar zones, there are 11 teams to prune trees. All teams are given specific instructions and they have to get permission from the Tree Officer (South) to cut any tree, he says. In Puttaswamy’s jurisdiction, 75 trees fell during the last two months alone.

There is also the concern that pruning cannot be rushed. "The pruning that should be done over a year is done by BESCOM within a few months. As trees here are older and stronger they shift weight easily," Puttaswamy says.

A government order allows BESCOM to prune trees that interfere with electricity lines; BESCOM does not have to consult Forest Department officials for this. Puttaswamy says that BBMP cannot interfere in BESCOM’s functioning and that the only option is for BESCOM to appoint a Tree Officer to monitor pruning.

Speaking on behalf of Managing Director P Manivannan, BESCOM’s Public Relations Officer says that so far neither Forest Department officials nor citizens have advised it on the pruning issue. "We will seek Forest Department’s suggestion in the Co-ordination Committee meeting. Pruning is compulsory and our only alternative would be to lay underground cables, which are costly and need service ducts on either side of the road," says BESCOM’s PRO.

Vijay Babu S counts the green cover. File Pic: CM

Vijay Babu S, in his early twenties and member of the NGO Sattva Welfare Association which surveys city trees, says that cutting of tree roots while laying utility lines is another issue. "Also, covering tree roots with cement prevents trees from absorbing nutrients," he says. Babu is an engineering college student. 

Puttaswamy says that BBMP has already initiated action to remove the cement over tree roots. "BBMP’s Engineering department started work on this about a month back, and it is expected to be complete before monsoon, for the entire city. Digging land for utility lines weakens trees, but they have to be laid; what can be done about it?" he asks.

About Navya P K 241 Articles

Navya P K is a former senior staff journalist at Citizen Matters, and a freelance journalist based in Kerala.

15 Comments

  1. another issue,is the clearance given by the BBMP to build 3/4/5 floor complexes in residential areas,without planting trees,that have been uprooted.I wish that the trees could express their anguish at this loss of green cover,shade and subsequent The greed of the clearing authorities is sickening!
    Raghu Rajan

  2. Today I saw in deccan herald that BBMP is cutting 36 trees on sampige road to widen to make way for traffic. This is lazy thinking. I know th strech of the sampige road very well. Even if they widen the road and add 2 more lanes traffic will still be congested. why. Very simple people in Bangalore drive like unruly ungovernable uncivilized mob. If intead the roads remained as they are trees remained then they cordoned off footpaths on either sides of the roads created footbridges every 25 meters or so then pedestrians would be able to cross easily without blocking traffic, vehicles would need to dodge people all the time. Traffic from 8th cross and 11th cross can flow into sampige road. Remove all shops and vendors encraching footpaths and create stall for vendors on footbridges. This will allow elderly and infirm to cross roads stop people from jay walking. widen the roads only at the junction of cross roads with sampige road and have a circle with rules of the roundabout or a traffic police. This means character of sampige road will not be disturbed (they dont destroy heritage building in Italy to widen old roads)but traffic and people will flow more smoothly. Please protest this and put these ideas into the heads of BBMP officials who want only cuts in road building.

  3. Road side trees have outlived their purpose and as civilization marches on,I strongly think that the trees on road sides have caused immense harm to life and property and have to be dispensed with.As a Bangalorean and also lived in US,I was pleasantly surprised that wide roads in US have no buildings and no trees on either sides and the roads present a lovely sight with large expanse of green lawns and trees away from the roads (serving the purpose of rain harvesting ) and unrestricted movement of vehicles in bright light.God save Bangalore.

  4. development can be done without destroying the nature. If we cannot do that then we are not developing we are only growing or expanding. Bangalore was the most peaceful place in India or Asia. and British choose this as their resting place. Retired persons heaven – today we have people flowing down from Bihar, UP bringing with them what they have done their. Do you think we have to make pace for them ? by spoiling the environment – some one said above that more vehicles more malls we need to cut down trees and follow short cuts ? I think this is the most short cut thinking – government is worried about their vote banks – so they brought in people who will support their vote banks – they should have stopped the licence to autos, restriction to number of cars per family – build malls our side the city limits ? why not ? Where there is a will there is a way – and NO SHORT CUTS WILL GO FOR LONG ! I LOVE BANGALORE – I have played football on Rajaram mohan roy road, and waited in MG road to see a Car – can you believe it ? but then we had peace – we lived without fear- less crime – and Bangalore was heaven.GOD BLESS BANGALORE !

  5. What ever I have written regarding malls and vehicle is out of pain.
    being a bangalorean i would want bengaluru to still remain what it was 15 years back.
    Who wants malls ,how much does a person need people have become so materialistic .
    The local bangaloreans are suffering from mental sickness unable to bear the living cost and high vehicular population.
    At the end of the day the only people who can survive is people making money either in software or land owners or govt officials.
    Politicians have sold bengaluru to either the reddy’s or to the MNC’s.
    Who is going to listen to the normal man leading a decent life.

  6. I agree, development and obsolescence go together, it would be better to define a Business District around the centre of the city where we can have multi storeyed complexes for commercial activity where no one stays after dusk, no trees need be there too. Outside this domain we need greenery for future at least to absorb pollution created by high density of human living with vehicle exhaust numbering well over 50 lakhs.

  7. Hi i was born and bought up in bangalore and I am a kannadiga.
    Well at the end of the day its huge inflow of population to bangalore this is causing the issue .
    Blaming BBMP .BESCOM or any other government service is of no use the fact is huge inflow of population from all parts of india to bangalore.
    In order to provide infrastructure to this growing bangalore it would be required to cut down so many trees.
    And in order to get the work done faster it would be required to go in for short cuts which could have adverse effects.
    At the end of the day people want to spend more time in shopping and buy big cars ,to facilitate this the only best option would be to cut down the greenary and have more concrete buildings and have more wide roads.
    Its more fun to have more big malls and lots of appartments and wide roads at the end of the day what’s the use of greenary when people dont have a place to hang out and have fun.
    And for investment purpose atleast there should be appartments.
    Its preferable to go MAlls and have a mac burger then in a park with trees which would be boring.
    The localides need to adapt to the outsiders culture and talk more in english or hindi because if we stick on to our native culture we will be left back in the corporate world.
    Well one day our old bangalore will be like shanghai three cheers to our chief minister

  8. not bad – we have people who support the corrupt BBMP with logic arguments –

    Trees in Bangalore are removed in thousands – I was born in Bangalore and I know each road and in some roads I knew the tree and even it marks – when we walk to school we even hide some things below these trees…lol

    do not tell me this is another scam of uprooting the trees – where is the wood gone – where is the list of trees removed ?

  9. Alongwiyth many reasons sited above, the main factor revolves alone atround digging of ground and emtying the belley of our earth below. Today’s news says that phase – II of Metro will start soon, now during tunnelling process how many trees would be up-rooted and left loose by natural bonded strength, no body has worked out. Once they become weak and are held loose, one small thunderstorm would make their postutre changed from verticle to horizonral. Drilling of bore-wells around city in all corners is another reason for same thing.

  10. I remember walking along KR Road as a student of central college during 1954-58, between National college and scout Hqrs big trees on both sides. Now its semblence is near Netkallappa circle. Big trees need space for branches and roots too. Now there is a need to review, conuct a census of trees within the city, decide how many are safe, how many are to be pruned,how many need felling. Tis is the responsibility of BBMP. I am sure they will fail to realise until they are hauled up by court.

  11. The comment made by SV Nagappa to – “dig soil pits about 2 meters deep in a corner of a house and cover it will a good grill allow rain water to flow and recharge.” is an excellent one.

    We should all follow this advice in Bangalore and help recharge the ground water table across the city!

  12. Following on -Solution -dig soil pits about 2 meters deep in a corner of a house and cover it will a good grill allow rain water to flow and recharge. this will save every ones house foundations and trees. In bangalore recharge wells are being done in many gated communities such as those in sarjapur road. However every one nees to harvest rain water and stop digging of borewells and dig simple recharge wells whihc will protect water table , reduce salinity and contamination significantly and allow tree deep roots to breathe and survive. If you want to save trees around your home do these and you will have agood environment without all these nonsensical arguments. Toxic levels of acidity caused by nature and agricultural fertilizers and toxic levels of salinity caused by depletion of water table are the main causes of tree death and urbun home degradation. just cutting trees however badly done or ugly looks if the tree is not damaged with exposed bark will not harm an old tree. Some older trees need to be cut in the world one cant save every tree as if for every older tree cut a new tree is planted and if this is a 2-3 meter growing shrub it will cause leaset damage to homes and benefit the environment. Some genuiuses in banagalore plant trees whihc grow to several meters and put plam trees. this is utter idiocity and this is the one that will cause problems in future. Urban trees shouldbe about 3 meters in width and maximum of 4 meters in height nothing more.

  13. I can say there are a few biological issues here although people like to blame others in their environmental zeal. Bangalore has been growing indiscriminately to meet with the water deamnd due to prolonged drought many 1000s of borewells got been dug which depleted water from the water table. This has led to those older trees with deeper roots running out of water and thereby becoming loose. Plus high nitrate levels salts contaminating water table under bangalore is toxic to roots and creating dying off of the roots. I can categorically say this as a agricultural scientist. This has nothing to do with lopsided cutting of trees or pipes at the surface level. Nonsense. Tree roots extend several meters especially the tap roots. Surface roots are butressing. Pipes do not matter to tree roots as they have acidic oxalates which burrow through the pipes especially the older terracota or clay pipes and newer polypipes with joins and penetrate these pipes anyway creating contamination. Once the aquifer or water table is dry roots do not get water or oxygen and start to die. When heavy rains ensue the gaps created due to root death and drying of water table fill with water creating presasure on the upper surface aspects of the trees and then trees drop off. One thing that happens when salinity hits the surface of the water table is this along with carroding of the bricks and brick foundations causing house walls espeacilly compund walls to fall too. This is see all over australia where BBMP does not fell trees or anyone else.

  14. Why are Bangalore’s trees falling?
    is it the real question or is there something hidden in the question ?
    if its a straight question – every bangaloreans knows that the BBBMp is making it fall – ask me how?
    they dig the road first, leave the roots open – naturally it falls – they have been standing there for many many years some 100 years – in the last 2 years you see them fall – and it can be understood by any kid – its another hidden scam – where are all these trees taken – 1000’s of trees are cut and taken from bangalore – who takes all the money – its a scam… only god can save

  15. Due to your good works or due to the efforts of concerned citizens,the trees on one stretch of the CMR Road,crossing Kammanahalli Road has had the BBMP,clearing the areaof 2ft around each tree and erecting a stone boundary.
    The sad thing is that they have removed the mud,which could have served as a base.Our other citizens as well as BBMP workers,are using the space around the trees as a garbage area!
    This initiative by BBMP,need to be pursued in all other areas of Bangalore.
    Raghu Rajan

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