Saving trees by transplanting: BMRCL’s approach has some lessons for Bengaluru

SAVING TREES IN BENGALURU

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Bengaluru has just 0.166 tree per person. Pic: Shree D N

Translocation of trees has been hitting headlines these days a lot. The recent public statement by the Managing Director of Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) Ajay Seth that BMRCL will prioritise translocation, before deciding to fell any tree, is a ray of hope for citizens, at least along Metro alignments.

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Before going into the merits of translocation, compensatory planting and other issues, the question to ask is: does Bengaluru have enough trees for its size and population? No physical count of trees in the whole city has been done as yet, so we must look for other sources to give us an approximate idea of our tree population.

Tree census shows 0.166 trees per person

The most accurate scientific estimate of Bengaluru’s tree population across its 198 wards has been carried out by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Scientists from the IISc led by Prof T V Ramachandra of the Centre for Ecological Sciences used  data from high resolution and multi-spectral remote sensing satellites as a means to arriving at a tree count.

This team also used complex image processing methods to analyse the image data to discover tree canopies across all wards. To check on their own results, the IISc team physically counted the number of trees in their campus and then computed the same result using their remote sensing algorithms. The results had just 3% difference with the physical count. This study by IISc, therefore, can be taken as a good basis for our arguments.

The IISc study reveals that Bengaluru has an estimated 1.47 million trees (2013 figures) giving a figure of 0.166 trees per person. In contrast, one of the world’s greenest large cities, London, has about 8 million trees, yielding a figure of around 1 tree per person. Moreover, in Bengaluru we have the issues of air pollution from dust and vehicle emissions, rising temperatures due to relentless construction and ever-rising population. In stark contrast, European capitals like London, Rome, Paris etc have a stable population, and have achieved a good measure of control over pollution in their environs.

At another level, if we look at some cities that are close to Bengaluru in population and list out their tree cover as a percentage of city area, here is what we get:

Paris 30% ( Greater Metropolitan Area)
Shenzen 34%
Chengdu 24%
Lahore 12%

Much larger cities such as Jakarta, Moscow and New York have tree covers of 25%, 34% and 36% respectively.

The IISc study finds that Bengaluru’s vegetation cover is about 14% of its area. We are therefore will do well to emulate cities such as Chengdu, initially.

A number of studies have shown that an adequate population of urban trees spread out over avenues, parks, gardens and lake shores does help a city’s population by regulating temperatures, intercepting heavy rainfall, absorbing dust and gaseous pollutants from the air we breathe. We should also note that these ecosystems in a city are best-provided by trees with a medium to large-sized canopies, even though hedges and presence of grassy areas do have a positive role to play.

A few conclusions can be drawn from the above:

  1. Bengaluru is a “tree deficient” city if we compare with other major world cities. It is therefore imperative to look at plans to increase the tree count per person in our city, and preserve whatever older and mature trees that are still standing. If a few thousand trees in London have to go for an infrastructure project, it may not be such a big loss. For Bengaluru, which is already tree-deficient, it is a huge loss if even a few hundred trees have to be felled for a project. We have to save every tree that we can, in the face of such development projects. We no longer have the luxury of discussing whether we should go for fresh plantations, or transplantation is the way to go. Everything has to be tried, albeit in a scientific and professional manner.
  2. While planting of new and young saplings must continue on a large scale wherever possible, it is equally important to conserve our current population of medium to large trees. Newly planted saplings can take up this role only after 20-25 years of growth. We cannot just wait for this to eventually happen.
  3. We find that many infrastructure projects such as the Metro or road widening, inevitably imply that trees will be felled along their alignments. It is essential that as many such trees as possible are transplanted to safer areas before civil works begin. If this is done with due care and technical expertise, it may be possible to save more than 80% of such trees.
  4. Transplanted trees may form only 30 to 50% of the trees marked for felling, since the very large and very old trees on the alignment may have to be felled. However, even this is worthwhile as a number of nearby gardens, park or roads could benefit from the translocated trees. Such areas also will not have to wait 15-20 years for saplings to grow, but  will receive large ready to grow trees.

Now, the question to look at is, whether any large scale transplantation has taken place in Bengaluru recently and what results we can expect from such initiatives. The one major infrastructure project underway in our city is the Metro. At the Bangalore Environment Trust, we carried out a few pilot transplantations at the Whitefield area by moving some trees to the campus of GE-BEL. This was done with the help of technical experts and involved trees of medium size, around 25-30 feet high. The trees are doing well under care of our experts and with cooperation from GE-BEL.

BMRCL remains positive on tree translocation

A much larger population of trees along the Kanakapura Road alignment from Khodays’ till NICE Road was also identified by us and brought to the attention of BMRCL, requesting them to transplant these trees. We suggested this at the Tree Committee meeting held in June 2016. In spite of such requests, BMRCL was not able to carry out any large scale transplantation barring two Spathodea trees moved to a nearby campus. Today out of around 300 trees originally existent, only around 100 remain on this stretch.

However, at BET, we continued our engagement with BMRCL officials in charge of other reaches such as the RV Road to Silk Board and Bannerghatta Road stretches. Several photographs were submitted and requests to transplant were sent to these officials. Their attention was drawn particularly to :

  1. The large Rain Trees near the Woody’s restaurant and other areas on Marenahalli Road
  2. Trees on the divider from R V Road till the 11th main Jayanagar signal
  3. Trees in the Akka Mahadevi Park
  4. Over 70 trees of less than five years age (10-15 ft height) on the Bannerghatta Road divider
  5. Over 20 beautiful Tabebuia Rosea trees on the pavement outside the IIM-B compound
  6. Over ten large Pterygota Alata jungle species (35 to 45 ft) high outside IIM-B compound.
Bengaluru needs to save every tree possible. Pic: Shree D N

BMRCL did assure us that widening on Marenahalli Road near Woodys will be limited and Rain Trees will only be trimmed during the work. They also did initially float tenders for transplantation along the Marenahalli Road stretch. Later tenders for the same work along the Bannerghatta Road stretch were floated. Hence by Augusy-September 2017, we did see that BMRCL was willing to try out transplantation. To reach this stage took us about a year and a half of campaigning.

Some transplantation statistics:

  • Total of over 100 trees moved from the Akka Mahadevi Park and from the road dividers to locations such as Karnataka State Reserved Police (KSRP) quarters, Koramangala and the Laxman Rau park, 5th Block Jayanagar. A year later, over 90% trees at KSRP are doing well. We would still like to wait another year before drawing more definite conclusions about survival rates.
  • Total of over 150 trees moved from locations on Bannerghatta Road to multiple target locations
  • 25 Tabebuia Rosea trees moved to IIM-B campus, after the officials responsible at the IIM-B agreed to make space for the trees.
  • Remaining trees were moved to locations such as the Hulimavu lake bund and three parks in the Devarachikkanahalli area. (For example, Shatinikethan Park)
  • Tree species moved were mainly T Rosea, Indian Almond (Badam), Millingtonia Hortensis (Akasha Mallige)

With expert care, these trees are doing well and will need at least one more year of specialist care.

Costs of tree transplantation

From a technical view, these efforts were not easy and needed constant supervision by specialist agencies. However, it is not the aim of this article to detail out the exact methods to be used in transplantation.

In most of the above cases, the costs to move each tree and six months of after-care were between Rs 15,000-20,000. This is well within the capability of a large organisation such as BMRCL.

We must note that the distance each tree is moved must not exceed about 3-4 km, if costs are to be controlled. Also, so far no agency has attempted transplanting the very large ficus trees that line our roads, probably due to anticipated high costs. We have now lost many giants in the last few years to infrastructure projects. We need more ideas on how exactly to go about saving such trees.

Though the above actions by enthusiastic officers of BMRCL form a silver lining, and must be lauded, the picture is not always rosy. For example, on the Bannerghatta Road, along the boundary of Mantri Residency Apartments, many very large Millingtonia trees (over 60 ft high) have been cut down. Over ten Pterygota trees outside IIM-B have been cut down, even though they are not an obstacle to any work of the BMRCL. The huge debris of felled coconut trees lies on the pavement on Bannerghatta Road just outside the HSBC Data Centre Offices.

The pavement outside IIM-B is littered with debris from felling, huge concrete cylinders and large iron frames, making it out of bounds to any pedestrian. We need to constantly remind BMRCL and BBMP to carry out minimum maintenance of our pavements and roads, as they get ahead with projects. Local citizenry who reside near Metro alignments must constantly phone and email them about trees that need to be saved and caution them not to cut down the valuable ones. This has to be a mass movement.

Navigating between BBMP and transplantation

It is a sad and shameful fact that our authorities, when undertaking any road widening, do not leave any space on the newly widened  road to plant new trees. There are countless examples of such thoughtless work and design. The roads simply end on each side with a long, hollow concrete box which acts as a pavement and a drain. There is no space to dig out the earth and plant any tree. Look at the widened Kanakapura and Hosur Lashkar roads if you need visible proof.

So far, no one has been able to convince the BBMP to undertake translocation along roads that are to be widened. Another fact is that along any metro alignment, if the road is to be widened first, then BMRCL will not undertake translocation – because widening is a BBMP project!

So between the BBMP and BMRCL, we have many tricky channels to navigate. Now, multiple organisations, not just BET, must campaign with the BBMP to convince them of the value of translocation, before anymore major projects get underway. If the BBMP is short of funds as always, then the efforts of people must be towards getting corporate bodies to fund this transplantation along specified stretches.

More importantly, interested organisations and individuals must approach the BBMP Forest Offices and alert them well before the widening work, along with photos and tree locations, so that their contractors do not go out and cut down these trees.

And even more importantly, a series of meetings with BBMP officers need to be held to convince them of the value and imperative necessity of translocation. Without this, we cannot expect them to take any initiatives to tender for such work.


About Nityananda S 1 Article
Nityananda is a Trustee of Bangalore Environment Trust (BET).

2 Comments

  1. Would BMRCL really do that? They vanquished the green cover on kanakpura road. Trees which took 25 to 30 years to grow were cut mercilessly. To me it seems they are just doing PR business with such announcements as these things are not a statutory or regulatory requirements.

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