As is well known by now, the city’s road widening project is also causing a massive cutting down of trees. There is now the risk that it might reduce the greenery of the garden city just to its gardens. A PIL was filed with the High Court by the Environment Support Group (ESG) asking the court, amongst other things, to put a stay the project.
As a response to the PIL, the High Court on 28 June appointed a panel of experts to a review committee to oversee developmental projects like the Metro, underpasses, road widening, and so forth. According to the court’s order, the committee will take public opinion into account and pass orders on the advice of the experts. The court directed the BBMP and other agencies working on infrastructural development to consult the newly made committee for all the projects.
The justices, though, were guarded in their interim directive. They wrote: "This court is not only concerned with the public sensitivity regarding the felling of trees and the widening of roads on the one hand but also with regard to the sustained economic and social development of society at large on the other. An ideal balanced view is therefore necessary in a matter of this nature."
At a meeting meeting in the press club in 9 July, Leo Saldanha, Coordinator of the Environment Support Group said that the constitution of the review committee is a welcome sign from the courts. "It is for the first time that a committee has been formed that would take public opinion into consideration," he added. Along with him present in the meeting was Sunil Dutt Yadav, Advocate, ESG and Dr R Padmini, representing CIVIC.
The review committee is headed by A N Yellappa Reddy, environmentalist and retired IAS officer and Justice K L Manjunath. Of the six experts who will help the committee, three were suggested by the petitioners and three by the respondents.
The three suggested by the petitioners are: Dr Subbarayan Prasanna, Ph D, Retired Professor and Dean, Urban Planning, Indian Institute of Management, Dr Shrid Prasad Tekur, Community Health Specialist and Dr Carol Upadhyay, Ph D, Fellow, School of Social Sciences, Social Anthropologist, National Institute of Advanced Studies.
The other three members suggested by the respondents include: Dr Parameshwar, Lake Side Hospital, Dr Sharma, Ramky Ennroo Engineers and Dr Shekhar Madhu, Civil Engineering Department, Indian Institute of Science. The convenor of the committee is S Shekhar, the BBMP’s Tree Officer. *
Saldanha says that there is no formal procedure that has been established on how the public can approach the committee. "I would presume the committee would be approachable by the public at large. In addition ESG and CIVIC as petitioners could collate issues and submit to the committee for consideration through its members," he added.
While the first meeting is scheduled on 14 July, Monday. M R Suresh of the Alternate Law Forum said that first meeting is restricted to the members and will decide on the future actions of the committee. "We will decide on a fixed date when the public can submit their proposals," he explained. ESG plans to make a set of detailed proposals on the processes to be engaged in, says Saldanha.
The PIL, filed earlier this year, charges that the road widening project violated provisions of the Karnataka Town and Country Planning act, Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act and Karnataka Tree Prevention Act. It says that in addition to altering character of the city’s landscape permanently, BBMP’s road widening project does not adhere to the basic principles of urban planning and design and does not follow the standards prescribed in the National Building Code.
The PIL also connected trees and temperature; according to a study done by the ESG, around 30,000 trees might get chopped off for road widening in all, which, at around 100 trees per kilometre increases the temperature of the city region by around 2-3 degrees Celsius.
Going further, the PIL also says that the road widening project concentrates so much on decongesting the road traffic that it neglects the other road users including the road vendors, pedestrians, senior citizens and children.
* The original article had incorrectly reported the name of the convenor of the committee. Corrected 19th September 2008.
Please note that the convenor of this Committee is the Tree Officer of BBMP and not Suresh of ALF.