In the first part of this series, we pointed out that Environment Clearance (EC) was issued for the mammoth elevated corridors project within the record time of two weeks. EC is issued based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by the project proposer. In this case, the consultant AECOM Asia had submitted the report on behalf of the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd (KRDCL) which is implementing the project.
In this part, we discuss the serious omissions in the EIA, which begs the question of how the EC was issued at all. For one, the EIA does not exactly quantify the carbon emissions from the project, or the urban heat island effect. It does mention both aspects, but does not study it in detail. For a city that is beset with air pollution and climate change, this is a major gap when it comes to decision-making on the elevated corridors.
There is nothing in the EIA or the project’s Detailed Feasibility Report (DFR) which shows how the corridors would promote the eco-friendly public transport either. In fact, these documents show the corridors will likely promote the increase in cars and two-wheelers in the city. The potential loss of over 3700 trees was not taken seriously while giving clearance either.
Here are some key issues which the EIA had not addressed properly.
- Carbon emissions
What is the estimated carbon emission from the project as per the EIA?
As per Table 6-5 in the EIA, there would be an estimated 73000 tons of CO2 emissions during construction. However, Table 6-6 indicates that carbon emissions from all vehicle categories would reduce drastically as the corridors become operational.
The assumption used here is that vehicles will move at the speed of 50 kmph on the elevated corridors; the corridors are designed for average speed of 50-80 kmph. It also assumes that the average speed on the regular roads at grade would then be 25 kmph, seemingly because the elevated corridors are expected to reduce congestion in the city overall. But 50 and 25 kmph are a huge leap from the current average vehicle speed in the city, which is 12-18 kmph during peak hours.
The EIA assumes increased vehicle speed in the city because of the corridors. But neither the EIA nor the DFR conclusively establishes that the corridors would reduce congestion in the city. In fact, the DFR, under its sections 4.6 and 4.7, says that the design capacity of many stretches of the elevated corridors would be exceeded by 2023 itself! This is because vehicle numbers in the city are rapidly increasing, and more vehicles would be attracted to the corridors because of their better capacity and infrastructure, says the DFR.
Hence, the DFR suggests that this situation should be addressed by a holistic approach, mainly by improving public transport and reducing the number of private vehicles. This is ironic, considering that the corridors themselves were built primarily for private cars and two-wheelers. As per the EIA, as of 2037, the traffic along the corridors would comprise 26 lakh cars plus two-wheelers, but only 3558 buses. Fundamentally, the project reports contradict themselves on these points.
Is the elevated corridors project carbon neutral?
Carbon neutrality refers to having a net zero carbon footprint, often by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal measures. In the case of elevated corridors, the EIA is prepared based on ‘Terms of Reference (TOR)’ or criteria issued by the SEIAA (State Environment Impact Assessment Authority). (SEIAA is also the authority that issues the final Environment Clearance for the project, based on the EIA). One of the TORs was ‘Carbon Footprint to be studied and suitable offsets may be suggested’.
As per this, the EIA gave details of carbon footprint as mentioned above, and suggested offset measures like vertical gardens on pillars, and green bushes on medians. The EIA also mentions plans to use solar-powered street lighting and traffic signals along the corridors. But these are only suggestions, and the carbon savings from these is not quantified. Hence the EIA does not address how carbon emissions can be mitigated adequately.
- Urban heat island effect
Urban heat island effect refers to rise in local temperatures in urban areas due to excessive built-up surfaces and loss of green cover. As per a 2014 study by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute), the dense urban pockets of Bengaluru were found to be about 2 ᵒC warmer than nearby rural areas. This report also quotes, “In another study done by IISC, an increase of 2-2.5 ᵒC was observed during the last decade owing to 76% decline in vegetation cover and 79% decline in water bodies, which is indisputably due to reckless urban sprawl”.
Elevated corridors would have built-up area of 21.89 lakh sqm, or roughly 2.35 crore sq ft. For such a huge area, the TOR did not require the consultant to study the heat island effect. Instead, an additional TOR only required them to “have a scheme for vertical gardens on the pillars to reduce heat effect”.
- Tree loss
What does the EIA say about tree loss?
EIA acknowledges the impact of tree loss in Bengaluru. Table 8-1 in the report states, “Loss of trees leads to deterioration of air quality due to increased concentration of air pollutants. Tree removal accelerates soil erosion…loss of trees will change the microclimate of Bengaluru due to loss of shade and decrease in humidity, and affects rainfall. Tree cutting will lead to loss of habitat for avifauna.”
However, the report also says that the impact of the project on trees is unavoidable. Over 3700 trees have to be cut, and another 601 pruned, to make way for elevated corridors. This includes trees along environmentally-sensitive stretches such as Cubbon Park. Residents along the corridors would be especially affected, since compensatory tree planting would not be done at the same location.
The DFR too has stated that tree felling would affect air quality. It also states that trees reduce the urban heat island effect, and have an important role in mitigating climate change. The DFR states that other significant adverse effects during project construction are poor air quality, increasing noise levels, problems in disposing debris, and impact on nearby water bodies especially Ulsoor lake.
How does the Environment Clearance issued, refer to tree loss?
The clearance refers to this in just four paras, under Section VII ‘Green Cover’. This section describes measures to reduce tree felling and to compensate tree loss. It directs that compensatory plantation should be done in the ratio of 1:10; that is, 10 trees should be planted for every tree cut. This ratio is not backed by any scientific basis in the document.
Citizen Matters had earlier reported that compensatory plantation for Metro and other public projects has been almost ineffective in Bengaluru. The trees are often planted in far-off areas, sometimes in another district. Since no one even keeps track of these trees, there is no data available on their survival rates.
So, did the approving authorities – SEAC (State Expert Appraisal Committee) and SEIAA – have data on the effectiveness of compensatory plantation so far? If not, had it requested the same from the government before issuing the directive on compensatory plantation?
With these gaps in the EIA, it would be relevant to consider the March 2017 judgement of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the formerly-shelved steel flyover project.
While ordering that the project required an Environment Clearance, the tribunal had said, “True, the question whether the construction of an elevated road would decrease the pollution level resulting from vehicular movement, and whether it would compensate the loss to environment due to the felling of trees is definitely a relevant factor to be looked into. Unfortunately, we find there was no balancing of the gain and loss to the environment by the felling of trees, the additional heat that may be generated by the construction of an elevated road (built on a steel flyover) and the reduction on the pollution of air and noise on the environment due to the construction.”
Unlike the steel flyover project, the elevated corridors project has got EC. However, the concerns in the NGT judgement remain here too. The EIA, based on which EC was given, does not quantify environmental impacts or mitigation measures adequately. Eventually, it is unable to establish that the corridors will have enough benefits to override the impact it creates on the environment.
The NGT judgement had also emphasised on the need for public consultation, which was lacking in the case of steel flyover project. But the government has avoided public consultation in the case of elevated corridors project too.
These are even more problematic, considering that the elevated corridors project, with built-up area of 21.8 lakh sq m, is about 15 times the size of the steel flyover project!
[Navya P K contributed to this article]