If you have travelled a reasonable number of major cities in India, the first thing that will strike you about Bengaluru is its green cover. The trees that stand regally spreading their foliage on both sides of the road, creating cool, beautiful avenues for passers-by to enjoy. These trees shield us from the fury of the sun during the warm summer months, and bear beautiful flowers in springtime. The joy that comes from watching these flowers in full bloom is truly sublime. It can transport one from mundane surroundings to a veritable paradise. Trees soothe our senses and relieve stress.
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There are more important uses of this green cover as most people would know. Trees reduce the incidence as well as the impact of flooding by first moderating the temperature, so that rainfall is spread out over a longer period, and by helping to absorb the rain water that falls on the ground. Trees are a very important part of green infrastructure that help us manage our ground water, and help us mitigate the effects of pollution and greenhouse gases, by sequestering carbon. How do they do that? Trees absorb carbon di-oxide which has been identified as the most common greenhouse gas during photosynthesis, to generate food, and use this for their growth. They hold the carbon in their wood and reduce the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Bengaluru got its trees due to its very benevolent and sensible rulers of the past, who saw to it that their people were well provided for in terms of greenery and all its advantages. This they did out of simple common sense and an understanding of how natural systems work, and also owing to their vision for the city. This good work was continued by the British, and some sensible other foreigners who created the lung spaces that we owe them our gratitude to. Later as the city expanded, this green cover was slowly let go to make space for industrial areas, residential layouts and commercial complexes.
According to a study by the IISc, in the 15 years between 1999 and 2014, when the city really took off as an IT destination, it has lost nearly 65% of its green cover. Even the cover that remains is of trees that are full grown, some old, and some diseased and dying. The road and footpath works that are undertaken ever so frequently, also contribute in no small measure to this decline. Most of the trees are found concreted or tarred around the roots, or their roots damaged. Never have trees been replanted where they have been cut down for road widening. Even when new footpaths are laid with crores of expenditure, no thought is given to allot a space for a tree every so many metres. Tree censuses are not undertaken except in a few rare cases. Indeed there seems to be no prescribed way of treating these life-giving forms that stand in the way of our own self-destruction.
Exacerbating this situation is the fact that there have not been too many successful attempts at afforestation by our present day governments. Even if there have been some attempts they have not been followed through by efforts to maintain the saplings that have been planted, to help them grow to a state of self-sustenance. This is despite the fact that there are funds available for this purpose. The funds allocated by the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), which has green spaces and parks as one of its focus areas, can very well be employed towards this end. Green spaces and parks do not only mean fenced and enclosed spaces that contain a few trees, but they also mean trees on either side of the road, that were a feature of our avenues in Namma Bengaluru, those that we were so used to seeing even until not so long ago.
Collective effort is required to salvage the situation by renewing Bengaluru’s green cover, not just in far flung and remote peri-urban parts of the city, but even more urgently in front of our factories, offices, shops and houses in our very own neighbourhoods. Bengaluru fortunately has had a very good record with regard to civic action, be it fighting for the lakes, or the proposed master plan, opposing the steel flyover or supporting the suburban railway system around the city. Hopefully the renewing of the city’s green cover can also become a movement of the people, by the people and for the people, for this is the true essence of the commons. This is what will determine our collective future as a city, and as a community of people.