Sankey Road tree cutting could have been halted

The Sankey Road trees might have survived longer had the Mayor Sharadamma Ramanjaneya initiated a meeting of the Tree Authority of which she is the convener. But Shardamma is not aware of the Tree Authority for Bangalore. The authority is supposed to hear the public’s complaints on tree felling. Citizens and organisations can appeal decisions by forest department officials such as the BBMP Tree Officer, permitting or disallowing cutting of trees in the city.

One of the trees BBMP cut during the midnight operation on June 30th-July 1st. Pic: Yogaraj Mudalgi.

The top forest official in BBMP limits, Deputy Conservator of Forests K Puttaswamy says, “There is already a Tree Authority – comprising Mayor, Commissioner, Deputy Conservator of Forests and a nominated councillor – to which people can give complaints on tree felling. It does not have a office as such, but meets (is supposed to) whenever BBMP gets a complaint”. 

Puttaswamy agrees that the public can complain to Tree Authority on the remaining two trees left on Sankey Road if needed, but adds that he has never been part of any meeting by the Tree Authority since he took charge three years back. “Probably there have never been any complaints”, he says.

But in what appears to little known fact in Karnataka regulations, Puttaswamy says that in case of complaints, it is the mayor who is supposed to initiate Tree Authority meetings,. “If there is no elected mayor, the administrator (state government) can do this,” he says.

Vinay Sreenivasa of Hasiru Usiru says that activists did file a complaint with the Tree Authority on June 29, when the Sankey Road trees were going to be auctioned. The written complaint was given to the BBMP Commissioner’s office, not directly to the mayor, says Sreenivasa. “We informed the Commissioner about it over the phone, but the process continued despite this”, he adds.

“I am not aware of the Tree Authority. I am also not aware of this particular complaint”, Sharadamma told Citizen Matters over the telephone. Therefore the question of her convening meeting of the authority did not even arise, even as, on July 1st, activists were arrested and tree-cutting proceeded.

But Sreenivasa points the finger at the DCF Puttaswamy himself. “Though Tree Officer Venkateshappa initiated the auction, it was approved by the DCF,” he says.

Puttaswamy spoke to Citizen Matters about his defense on the procedure for auctions. Once the BBMP Tree Officer gives sanction, it is notified in daily newspapers. In this case, the notice was published in Deccan Herald, Prajavani, etc. on June 28, he says. “Because of the situation in Sankey road, I gave permission to the ACF to start the auction with police protection. I have the authority to accept or reject the sale once auction is completed. In this case the sale amount was higher than the rates fixed by BBMP, so I approved it,” he says.

Residents writing on a white board during a silent protest in the evening of July 1st, after 17 trees were cut down. Pic: Yogaraj Mudalgi.

The BBMP does not have to hold public consultations before tree cutting, says Puttaswamy, in an assertion that is likely to irk the city’s green activists even further.

In a related development last week, Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group, a city-based green NGO, filed a separate complaint with the Karnataka forest department against Puttaswamy for auctioning trees secretly despite public protest. Puttaswamy’s actions violate Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, Karnataka State Forest Act, Karnataka Transparency Act etc., says Saldanha, in his complaint.

Puttaswamy says he is not aware of Saldanha’s complaint, and adds that it does not concern him. He separates the actual decision to fell the trees from that of greenlighting the auction. “Decisions on tree felling is made by the Tree Officer, who is also the Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF). As ACF, he reports to me; but as Tree Officer his decisions are independent”, he says.

All of this and more is likely to come under scrutiny next week at the High Court. Frustrated with BBMP’s intransigence with tree-cutting, Dr Meenakshi Bharath and others had filed a public interest litigation at the High Court last week asking for a stay on Sankey Road’s tree-cutting . “Due process not being followed, tree auction held in-camera as opposed to being done in public, not informing the public beforehand, are some of the issues we are raising,” says Meenakshi.

The case is coming up for hearing next Tuesday, 12th July. At the first hearing on 4th July, BBMP’s lawyers pushed for time saying it needed to prepare arguments. A city administration that wasted no time in cutting the trees last week, was asking for time this week to prepare its arguments.

Confrontation on July 1st between affluent citizens and police. Residents arguing with the police who had barricaded the road along which trees were being felled. Pic: YM.

Meanwhile, opinions on tree felling for roadwidening in the city are not a unanimous yes or no. Some in real estate community are taking a line opposite that of the greens. Irshad Ahmed, President of the Bangalore Realtors Association India (BRAI) says, “Widening and tree felling is inevitable, probably greenery will have to be limited to areas outside CBD. Given the protests and court cases, BBMP has to take public into confidence before widening, but the final decision should be from BBMP.”

However, city-based traffic expert M N Sreehari is unimpressed. He says that on Sankey road and many others, congestion can be managed with minimal widening and no harm to trees. “BBMP needs to constitute a panel of academicians and researchers who can advice it on traffic management”, he says.

Sreehari also disagrees with BBMP’s oft-repeated statement that the city’s Revised Master Plan had already notified Sankey Road and others for widening in 2005. “When the roads were proposed for widening initially, no such experts were consulted”, he says.

The ball though, is in the High Court’s court now.

Repeated litigations have not resulted in clarity

The Sankey Road PIL is not the first case challenging Bangalore’s roadwidening projects, especially on the issue of tree-cutting.

In February 2011, a High Court division bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice A S Bopanna initiated a PIL suo motu against BBMP and other civic agencies for indiscriminate tree felling. This was done after HC judge Justice D V Shylendra Kumar wrote to Khehar citing media reports on BBMP’s proposed cutting of 1000 trees. Justice Kumar in his letter said that there was no justification for the proposition that road widening will reduce congestion.

Justice Kumar wrote that no Tree Authority exists, as required by the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, due to which public has been denied participation in decisions on tree cutting. Sanctioning of tree felling is above the powers of the Tree Officer and hence all of BBMP’s sanctions given for Bengaluru’s tree-cutting were illegal and void, he argued. Government should constitute a Tree Court and a Metropolitan Committee of BBMP corporators, NGOs etc. to advise authorities, he wrote.

That is not all. Two and a half years before Justice Kumar’s action, Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group and Kathyayini Chamaraj of CIVIC filed a similar PIL with the High Court, challenging BBMP’s roadwidening at the cost of Bangalore trees.

In neither of these cases has the High Court ruled to settle whether BBMP’s approach of tree cutting for roadwidening is legal or not. The Sankey Road PIL brings the same question back to the fore, yet again.

 

15 Comments

  1. If down the Road near Cauvery Theater, it is only a magic box which sustains the same traffic flow, where is the need for widening the Road ? I think Bhashyam circle traffic is mainly uni-directional and there is enough space to have a Magic Box which not only saves money for the cash strapped BBMP but saves the century old trees. At the best, they can construct a small cantilever pedestrian bridge all along the Sankey Tank and widen the Road to the extent feasible by appropriating the existing foot path.

  2. Where do we register the protest for cutting trees? in my neighborhood i see lot of residents are filing wrong applications to BBMP for pruning branches of large trees to save themselves from cleaning their compaunds from falling leaves and BBMP is prompt to send the cutting contractors to execute this KILL.

  3. The solution lies in having a holistic view and giving weightage to trees, to traffic management and convenience. Solution lies in creating space for new saplings to be planted on the new roadside and taking care of them instead of forwarding arguments for the sake of it. Citizens right, the right way and for the right issues are required. Can the ‘environmentalists’ in their thinking accomodate alternate solutions?
    I would rather want to see the ‘concerned green citizens’ to protest against the laying of tiles and granite slabs on the footpaths and instead push for the cobblestones that were used a few years back. This allows for more rainwater to seep into the ground than go down the drain, literally. These are issues that have a much bigger impact on the environment. Consider the total area covered by the tiles/granite/concreting of the pavements and assess the impact of the ‘runaway’ water.
    Lets end the tunnel vision approach. As goes Sidhuism, the light at the end of the tunnel could as well be an approaching train. Theres a message which both the administrators and the citizens need to learn.
    BTW how many saplings have u planted in your house in the last 6 months?

  4. I find the whole debate about sankey road widening inching towards the absurd everyday.
    Adding to Mr.Achuta N’s argument that all people moving on a road are not headed to the same destination, the argument being put forward by the ‘green lovers’ makes another assumption that people are commuting from one place to the other and does not consider the likeliness of some baggage/luggage being carried. e.g. a salesman on a sales call might be carrying equipment which cannot be practically be carried in a mass transport vehicle. I know there are quite a few who will pounce on this example, but lets face it.
    As a person who loves trees beyond lip service, I am still for the road widening on this stretch. Not felling the trees is not the solution. I have been travelling on this stretch for more than 3 decades and this argument that felling the trees on the stretch will spell doom for sankey tank. The green cover in bangalore a few decades back and now is actually much better. Go back in history and people will realise that Bangalore had little green cover and the planting of roadside trees was taken up about 25 years back. A similar protest was staged when some trees, mostly eucalyptus were cut down in lalbagh for the metro work saying hundreds of trees were being felled and it would sound the deathnell for lalbagh lake as well as lalbagh itself. Did these protestors so concerned for greenery consider the fact that eucalyptus trees hardly allow other greenery to grow around it?

  5. Why do we need trees on the roadside ? So that pedestrians and cyclists can walk in their shade. People who use buses are also pedestrians, when walking to the bus stop at the starting point, and walking from the bus stop at the destination.

    Who are these people who use buses or walk or cycle ? 50 % of the population of Bangalore. This also includes ALL children and teenagers, till the age of 16 – that’s when you are legally permitted to drive an automobile.

    When you as an adult ask for wider roads and signal free corridors, remember this : The victim of your addiction to your private transport is your own child (or grand child). Because of your addition to your ‘door-to-door’ private transport, your child is forced to breathe polluted air, walk on shade-less roads, struggle to cross roads to and from school, forced to stay indoors because you think ‘It’s not safe to go out – the roads are too dangerous’. And who is making the roads dangerous ? YOU, the adult.

    By the way, I’m one of the ‘poor cousins’ who cycles or takes a bus to work every day, to whom wider footpaths, safer roads and roadside trees can mean the difference between life and death.

  6. Achuta,
    The presentation talks about sustainable transport, and the picture of the buses is to illustrate the road space usage efficiency that buses can give.

    One does not take numbers used to illustrate a concept and make an argument out of them. Did you see a later slide that says traffic can be reduced by 75 ?

    BMTC’s 6100 buses already carry half of Bangalore’s population.

    In reality the traffic numbers may look something like this:
    20,000 buses
    1.5 Lakh Autos
    1 Lakh taxis (that can be hailed, like autos now)
    5 Lakh private cars and 2-wheelers
    Ambulances, fire trucks, etc.
    Totalling about 10 Lakh vehicles, 25 % of the current vehicle population. This is why the later slide says 75 % reduction.

    The last mile transport for buses is typically walking, worldwide. Today your nearest BMTC stop is 1 km. of wherever you are in Bangalore. BMTC plans to reduce this to 0.5 km.

    In terms of social equity, the current transport system is seriously weighted against the ‘people who eat once a day’ who you mention in your rather incoherent last para. These are the pedestrians, bus users and cyclists, the biggest victims of vehicular pollution and road accidents. Car and bike users cause the maximum pollution and use a disproportionately high amount of road space.

    In the past 5 months, just one spot on the signal free road near Mekri circle saw 5 deaths from road accidents. 4 of these were of pedestrians trying to cross the road.

    Sustainable transport will hugely improve the mobility and health of ‘our poor cousins’ (as you put it).

    For your information, BBMP’s budget this year has Rs. 1000 Cr. for building signal free corridors and multi-storeyed parking lots, Rs. 3 Cr. for education (that’s corporation schools), Rs. 4 Cr. for medical health. How’s that for priorities ?

  7. We have two options, 1. Use your vehicles for commuting 2. Encourage people to use mass transportation

    The first option is not viable in the long run (Bengaluru already has close to 1 crore population). If we plan and implement public transportation properly people will stop using their private vehicles. For this we need long term vision and scientific approach.

    Corruption and harm to the nature in the name of development should be stopped.

  8. Anand,
    Thanks for sharing the presentation.

    One golden rule you missed in that, you assume that we can avoid 75 cars and ask them to board a single Bus.
    Here you think, all the 75 car users wanted to go a single location or atleast on same road and at the same time.
    The point here is, to cater to the 75 car users you need not just 1 Bus but a lot of buses going to multiple locations !!

    Also remember, Buses can not provide the last mile conductivity. And further buses can not play from every location to every other locations.
    So that means forcing people to take multiple buses (depends on the route) and minimum 2 Autos.

    And always remember we are living in india, you know, how mercilessly BMTC drivers drive?
    US,UK, Japan have better and very good road discipline, we can’t have that model over night. Its impossible to ask or demand that from our population. Remember we are struggling to feed them atleast 1 time per day. We have numerous issues, Illegal constructions, encroachments, lack of jobs in villages and floating population in cities etc etc. We should not forget about our poor cousins in villages, and say no one else should move to cities !! How can we say, I want all comfort and I don’t care if there is poverty in villages. How can we say, I don’t care human life or kids safety since I love stray Dogs ?

    regards,

  9. Green activists, please understand that we need wider roads too. How much pollution we add by driving at low gear? We should understand that having a wider road means less pollution and better environment.

  10. If our honorable Mayor not aware of Tree Authority then only god (if he exists) can save our city!

  11. Mr. Irshad Ahmed is more concerned about his real estate business group so that no trees come in their way of the business. Remember that there is an apartment proposal on the sides of the Sankey road and that is what is intention is.

    Where in the world people say Greenery is restricted outside the city? What will happen to the temperature of the city? Trees are compensating for the rise in temperature due to vehicular traffic, if that is also removed, God should save Bangalore.

  12. I’ve been following the Sankey Road debacle from halfway across the world, and I felt even more miserable when I read this article. Will we stop the desertification of our city only when it is too late? How can we change our politician’s apathy, ignorance, greed and lack of vision? All the efforts that I’ve been involved in, in Bangalore, have been failures; we’ve lost the trees we’ve protested for. We are a group of people with no rights to enforce what we want on the Government…

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