Greens vs. Government in Bangalore

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In the ongoing, sometimes fractious discussions between green organizations and bodies like the BBMP and BMRCL, our citizens could possibly have lost the core arguments on the two sides, both of which are certainly valid and appear to lead in opposite directions.

It is, therefore, vital to state these views clearly and then find the middle ground. Each party needs to shift its stance from their earlier frozen positions and work out a protocol for future projects. There should be proper documentation of issues in each project and a modality to deal with the environmental impact, which is to the satisfaction of city planners, greens and citizens alike.

Here are a few points which, in this writer’s opinion, need to be stated and hopefully will help find that elusive middle-ground to conserve what is left and plan for growth.

A. For Bangalore’s size and population of 7 million, the metro is surely an imperative and we should actually have had this facility around five years ago. Also, with the huge increase in traffic , we may not be able to postpone widening some of the city’s main arteries, though there has to be an agreed limit to this too.

B. Equally important, we must note that the spirit of Bangalore lies in its parks, avenues and urban lakes. Bangalore’s uniqueness among world cities lies in this profusion of horticulture, which far outstrips whatever is seen in famous cities like Paris, Prague, London et cetra.

THIS UNIQUE CORE OF BANGALORE WILL BE LOST IF WE PULL DOWN ITS AVENUES WITHOUT ANY IDEA ON HOW TO COMPENSATE FOR THE LOSS.

If we grant that some roads have to be widened and the metro built, the citizens and green activists need solid assurances from the Government bodies on the following lines:

  • When trees are felled to widen a road or build a metro viaduct, the BBMP/BMRCL must commit to planting fresh avenue trees along the widened road. This will at least ensure that our great avenues will be revived again in 30-40 years’ time.
  • No roads should be widened unless provision is made for sidewalks for pedestrians and trees, at least 10-15 feet wide on both sides. The BBMP/BMRCL should commit to sufficient land acquisition to make the above feasible.
  • Many government bodies seem to feel that merely carrying out tree planting in other far- off areas and layouts is sufficient compensation for tree felling in the inner city. These ideas must be discouraged and the initial compensatory work MUST be done at the same site where felling has taken place before focusing on other layouts and open areas.
  • Under no circumstances should the government allow major modifications to the existing core city parks like Cubbon Park, Lalbagh, Krishna Rao Park, Coles park et cetra. Such core parks must be listed officially and legally binding commitments should be given by the government that they will remain untouched, whatever the imperatives of traffic, population, et cetra.

The state government must work out a protocol by which any road widening or metro or similar project is first summarized in a white paper with details of the work to be carried out , trees and other structures to be demolished, the environmental impact and compensatory measures committed, both, at site and off-site for the project.

A standardized procedure such as above can then be used as a basis for discussion with citizens’ groups and a final modified white paper brought out, so that complete transparency is assured and the issue need not be endlessly debated and dragged to the courts.

It is regrettable that the widening of three of the city’s core roads like Seshadri Road, Race Course Road and Palace Road was carried out without the citizen getting a clear idea of the plans of the BBMP, like tree compensation on the now barren roads, provision of pedestrian sidewalks, structures to be demolished, et cetra. It is not too late to expect the BBMP to let the people know what they have in store for these widened roads and how they will restore them to world-class status as avenues again.

Again, the metro construction is certainly going to affect Lalbagh, Cubbon Park and the wonderfully conceived Lakshman Rau Avenue (4th Main, Jayanagar).

BMRCL which is still in its early stages of metro construction has a great opportunity to let the citizen know, through white papers, what they have in mind for conservation and restoration on every ‘reach’ of this project.

In addition to face to face meetings, such documents and citizen suggestions can be published on web sites and made visible to all stakeholders. Similarly, the extent of government acceptance of suggestions or rejection, thereof, should be made available to all on the same site.