Campaign against Illegal Tree felling in Bangalore
The media has been actively involved in covering and exposing rampant tree felling in the city and making people aware of the importance of our precious green cover. Journalists of major newspapers have taken outstanding initiatives in taking up cudgels against the culprits and have become a force to reckon with. This in conjunction with the tough stand taken by the judiciary and conscientious activism of concerned citizens has curbed this menace to a great extent.
- How green will my city be, 20 years hence? - Bangalore Times, June 5 2004
- How Green is my valley - Deccan Herald, Sunday, June 6 2004
- Trees trimmed for better visibility - The Hindu, 11 April 2004
- Unkindest cut of them all - Vijay Times, 10 April 2004
- Green trim for clearer view - New Indian Express, 10 April 2004
- Healthy tree gets the axe - The Times of India, July 2003
- Tree-felling comes to halt - Vijaytimes, Aug 14 2003
- Tree felling in City banned - DCF, Deccan Herald, Aug 15 2003
- Felling of trees an offence - The Hindu, Aug 16 2003
- Helpline to protect trees - Deccan Herald, Aug 21 2003
- Tree felled? Call 6534364 now - Vijaytimes, Aug 23 2003
- Why are so many trees being uprooted? - The Times of India, Sep 3 2003
- Trees still being cut in city - The Times OF India, Oct 21 2003
- Where have all the trees gone? - The Deccan Herald, Dec 29 2003
- Census in all wards to count green heads - DH News Service, Aug 12
- Forest dept fiddles as tree is felled - DH News Service, Oct 31
- BMP goes chop-chopping, but who cares? - DH News Service, Nov 7
- Apathy threatens magnificent mahogany - DH New Service, Nov 14
- No more flyovers, HC suggests to BMP, BDA - DH News Service, Nov 17
- BMP's permission to axe old trees, HC orders Lokayukta probe - DH News Service, Nov 18
- Nothing wrong in cutting trees for traffic flow : HC - The Times of India, July 12 2005
Bangalore: A healthy rain tree was felled on Jayanagar 4th main road between 32nd and 36th cross. The authorities ordered the felling of the tree on Thursday following a request from a resident in this regard. They also ordered the chopping down of some dead branches of two trees in the locality the environment support group opposed the cutting, terming it “illegal” the environmentalists contended the tree felled was not dead while the residents had complained it was about 40 years old and almost dead. The resident wanted ‘tree no. 704’ and dead wood from other trees cleared in the area. He had also said the tree would prove a nuisance were not taken. While the felling continued despite protests, the police said they were not responsible for it. By noon, most branches of the tree had been felled. The eco group has lodged a complaint with the district forest officer in this connection.
Tree-felling by the Bangalore city corporation (BCC) has come to a grinding halt in the city with the Karnataka forest department, Bangalore urban division, withdrawing all Orders giving permission to fell trees, that have been issued till date to the BCC, with immediate effect. The directive which was issued by the office of the deputy commissioner of forests (DCF), Bangalore urban division, stated that permission granted hitherto by this division of the forest department to the horticulture department of the BCC was being withdrawn with immediate effect under section 8 (1)of the Karnataka Preservation of tree act, 1976. further, it stated that it would pertain only to those cases of trees –felling orders given till date, where the trees have not yet been felled. DCF, Parameshwara, said that this order was taken in view of the recent HC judgement which has prescribed rules and procedures to be observed before felling trees.
The State Forest Department, Bangalore Urban Division, has withdrawn, with immediate effect, all orders to fell trees. The move comes in wake of a complaint filed by the Environment Support Group (ESG) to the Karnataka High Court alleging “illegal” felling of trees by the BMP and BDA officials. In a press statement, the ESG has noted that Karnataka High Court judges Mr Justice M F Saldanha and Mr Justice M S Rajendra Prasad had set out clear guidelines that would have to be complied with by all agencies before any tree is felled. In effect, this would involve planting two saplings prior to felling any tree. Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bangalore Urban Division) Parameshwara in a letter to the Horticulture Department of Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP) and the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) dated August 2, 2003, has stated that there should not be any further felling of trees.
BANGALORE: Felling of trees in Bangalore would now bear consequences such as contempt of court and action as per the Karnataka Tree Protection Act, 1976. The Karnataka Forest Department, Bangalore Urban Division, has withdrawn with immediate effect all orders issued to fell trees. This action was taken after a complaint from Environment Support Group, an NGO, based in Bangalore.
According to Mr Leo Saldanha, Co-ordinator, ESG, he had filed two complaints in the last few months after finding that several trees were being chopped in the city. Mr Parameshwara, IFS, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bangalore Urban Division), in a letter addressed to the Horticulture Department of Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and Bangalore Development Authority, has stated that any violation of this order would bear consequences such as contempt of court and action per the Karnataka Tree Protection Act, 1976.
Reasons for felling of trees in Bangalore have commonly included widening of roads, infrastructure development and layout formation. But the environmental consequences have been significant, according to the release. The High Court has observed that about 20,000 trees have been felled for the expansion of the Bangalore-Mysore highway alone. Meanwhile, ESG has set up a helpline (6534364) to receive complaints of tree felling that would be forwarded to the Forest Department.
Environment support group, a city based non-profit organization, has set-up a helpline to encourage progressive citizen engagement for protecting Bangalore trees. The organization has requested all residents of Bangalore to call (080)-6534364 and report cases of vandalism and unnecessary tree felling ESG would periodically gather evidence and follow up with the Karnataka forest department, après release said. The helpline has been set up in light of many complaints of tree felling in spite of directions by the Karnataka high court and the forest department against indiscriminate tree felling.
If denizens had their way the KPTCL would soon be in the dock for their erratic chopping of trees in the city. This statement might not come as a shock to many readers because at some point in time or the other residents in various localities in Bangalore have borne the brunt of the haphazard tree felling by the power department. A few conscientious citizens far from merely complaining got together and established a help line to address matters related to tree felling. And all this was done in the light of a Karnataka high court ruling in July that pulled up the state government and public authorities for indiscriminate axing of tree in the state. The environment support group (ESG) that has been actively involved in campaigning for lung spaces and credited for the above mentioned help line has thus far received nearly being “top priority.’’ “Following the chopping of nearly 9,000 trees this year, ESG and other environment organizations began receiving a flurry of calls from concerned citizens. Our help line aims to provide solutions to anyone who has a complaint against civic authorities or private owners cutting down trees,” explains Deepashree, Research Assistant. At present, ESG functions on a basic level, in that; they direct the caller to the concerned forest officials or other authorities who would be in a position to guide them. “Since we launched the help line just a few days ago we need more time to chalk out our plans. Resources are a major crunch here,” says Deepashree.
Though all the calls that ESG receives are tree-related, the reasons vary. While some people call to report a termite-infested tree, others want to know how to combat overnight felling. The more serious complaints are courtesy the KPTCL against whom several people want to initiate legal action. “We are campaigning to see that even pruning of trees is completely stopped. Trees often get weak following the shoddy treatment meted out to them by the linesmen” rues Deepashree. Right now though, for every tree that is axed, two new saplings have to be planted in their place. That’s not all; they have to be looked after for a period of two years after that. Only time will tell if the help line is successful in protecting the city’s trees from destruction.
At least eight trees were uprooted during the last month alone, when heavy rains lashed the city. While many of the trees that get uprooted are old and diseased, of late even young trees are falling experts say random road widening in the city is the reason why healthy trees fall after heavy rains. Former IFS officer SG Neginhal says the corporation KPTCL and telephone, department are the main wrong- doers. When these trees face the axe even partially, the chopped tree doesn’t die. “While widening the road, even irregular chopping damages the crown of tree and affects its growth. Eventually the tree will rot and fall over” says Neginhal. Environmentalist Leo Saldanha of the Environment Support Group says that during road widening if the roots of a tree are exposed to a substantial extent, it weakens the tree. “With widening, though a tree is not cut, it is packed in with tar or cement. This way no water will percolate due to lack of soil and the moisture will be lacking this will obviously weaken the roots. Tar is a black body which absorbs and keeps heat inside; when roots are packed with tar and cement on one side and there is a building on the other side, the tree cannot even send its roots out for water.” Saldanha adds that there are scientific ways by which roads can be widened without damaging roots of tree and the BCC must use those methods. Former environmental secretary N. Yellappa Reddy adds that a census must be undertaken to keep track of old, dying and bending trees. “That way preventive action can be taken and trees can be saved in time.”
RECENTLY, the Environment Support Group (ESG) received a complaint that over 600 trees were being cut on private land by a developer on Bellandur road. In another case, beautiful old trees on Vani Vilas Road are being cut to make way for a flyover largely regarded as unnecessary. This leads us to the question: does Bangalore still deserve the title of Garden City? The ESG has received innumerable complaints since starting up their tree helpline. Deepashree, ESG, says, "Some want trees cut because of the nuisance factor. Or because trees have fallen because of a storm. Some report illegal tree felling." The ESG provides legal advice and support in case of unauthorised tree felling. The number has gained momentum since July this year when a high court directive was passed (WA 8178/99 dated 29/7/2003) stating no tree should be cut unless inevitable, and that two saplings must be planted to replace each felled tree. "But tree felling is carrying on regardless," says Deepashree. "We are compiling all the complaints which we plan to take to the DFO's office." Eighty per cent cases, she says, are witnesses to illegal felling. This might pertain to trees on public land, like roadsides, or on private property. The ESG has taken some photographs of trees being illegally cut. For example, in BTM Circle, BDA contractors were cutting trees to facilitate flyover construction. "They stopped after we took action, but a week later, the trees were gone." Deepashree offers tips to those wanting to prevent tree felling. "Check the permission letter and understand why the tree is being cut. Note the type of tree and the state of its health. Everyone has to obtain the DFO's permission before cutting."
The City seems to be fast losing the sobriquet of Garden City. Statistics have it that 19,800 trees have been axed on the Bangalore-Mysore road in the last one year and 9,000 trees chopped in the City itself. The High Court has been quick to react, though. It has come up with a “first replace, then chop” formula for preserving greenery in the State. The State government has planted 10,782 saplings on the Bangalore-Mysore highway, which has earned praise by the court. There are several policies on paper to check tree-cutting. But while a tree is being chopped, one hardly finds anyone questioning the act. The problem is negligence and lack of awareness about environmental rules. The BMP conducted a census, to calculate the number of trees to be planted and the space available for them. As many as 25,543 saplings need to be planted in the City, according to the census. The BMP has also chalked out a plan of action to conduct a census of existing trees in all the 100 wards of the City. Out of the total saplings planted, the survival rate is around 70 per cent. There is a variation every year. Though the lawn near the dividers and the road joints are watered, very little care is taken about the newly planted saplings. Often the tree guards are robbed or they collapse along with the sapling.
The Bangalore Mahanagar Palike is constructing footpaths leaving no place for the roadside trees to absorb water or even an alternative for the trees to absorb rain water. The KPTCL and Bescom chop the trees on one side forcing the tree to lean on to the other side, posing dangers to the houses on the streets. There are instances where residents are known to jab at the trunks, pour acid into them and eventually axe them. The tree opposite the Food World at Koramangala is a case in point. As many as 4000 trees have fallen victim to the dreaded axe thanks to the flyovers coming up in the City, sources said. The forest department in the month of July had directed the BMP’s horticulture department to withdraw all the orders, issued under sec (8) of the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act 1976, to fell trees for which permission has been given till now, which means that the trees which have not been chopped yet, cannot be chopped. But there seems to be hardly any check on the culprits, who seem to be wielding their axes left, right and centre to fell the trees.The forest department has booked seven cases of illegal tree felling, four against the BCC and horticulture department. The forest department started patrolling against tree felling in the city. The public can dial the tree unit squad on ph: 3343543 to tip off the squad. An NGO Environment Support Group has started a helpline (6534364) to receive complaints and forward them to the forest department and follow up on the action taken. The NGO has received 32 complaints of illegal felling so far. The helpline also educates the public on the kinds of trees to be planted in particular areas, Leo Saldanha, the co-ordinator of the NGO said.
In a bid to improve the City’s green cover, the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike will conduct a tree census in all the wards through a private agency and undertake comprehensive tree planting in a planned manner. Commissioner M R Sreenivasa Murthy told the BMP Council today that an inspection has been carried out in every street, road and school compound to take a count of number of trees and different species planted so far and make an assessment of how many saplings are required. “According to a report presented on the matter, our requirement is for 25,543 trees. Our officials have prepared a list of which wards need how many trees and what species of trees can be planted. This is the first time that the BMP is undertaking such a planned tree planting programme. “We will also conduct a survey on how many trees have been planted in the last one year and their survival rate to minimise replanting,” he said. He was replying to a question by B R Nanjundappa (JD-S) on action being taken by the BMP to check trimming of tree tops by KPTCL and Bescom to avoid contact with overhead electrical wires, indiscriminate felling of trees by owners of vacant plots before constructing houses and what was being done to replenish the degrading green cover in the City. Deputy Commissioner (Development) K R Niranjan said the BMP had planted 18,900 saplings last year and a survey has found a survival rate of 70-80 per cent. Leader of the BJP in the Council B S Sathyanarayana suggested that before saplings are planted, the BMP should take corporators into confidence and the width of the street into account, apart from giving preference to medicinal plants and use of metal tree guards. Mr Nanjundappa suggested the BMP to bring in a legislation making it mandatory for the Forest Department to take the BMP’s permission before allowing trees to be cut.
When Rome burned, Nero fiddled. Closer home, when a 70-year-old ficus tree was being felled, the Forest Department preferred to enjoy a tea party as it bid farewell to a Principal Chief Conservator of Forests. Any number of attempts to get the Bangalore Urban Division and the City Tree Unit to stop the “murder” of a gigantic tree fell on deaf ears. And even if someone responded, the buck was passed, numbers were furnished asking the caller to talk to the people concerned. It was around 1.30 this afternoon when this correspondent noticed a contractor felling the magnificent tree in Gattigere Layout, Rajarajeswarinagar. The Forest Department was immediately alerted. In fact, there was a call from the Range Forest Officer (cell number 98456-34712), confirming that the mobile squad would arrive in an hour’s time to stop the mayhem. An hour went by. Another call went through to the Department. The RFO reassured that the squad would soon be there at the spot of destruction. RUTHLESS: Though the contractor was beseeched to stop the destruction, he ruthlessly continued to wreak havoc on the lower trunk of the tree, the only specimen of its magnitude and girth in an expanse of over two kilometres, ensuring that even if forest department personnel were to arrive by evening, the tree would die a natural death in due course of time. Desperate, help was sought from the Rajarajeswarinagar police outpost, where policemen are on deputation from other stations. Even as the two constables arrived at the scene of devastation, the RFO called to say that one would need to get in touch with the Tree Unit. The contact number was provided (3343543). “I can’t do anything as the officers in charge are not around,” said the lady at the Tree Unit. The Bangalore Urban Division was contacted again. But the lady, who identified herself as the attender, said: “Everybody has gone to the guest house to attend the farewell party of one of our big officer. It would be better if you could contact them on Monday.”Desperate, the Conservator of Forests (Urban) was contacted. Pat came the “he is attending a send off party” reply, accompanied with a discouraging “please contact on Monday”. Meanwhile, the policemen engaged the wood cutters, dissuading them from felling the tree, a refuge not only to endangered species of birds and insects, but also a place of rest for quarry and construction workers. Considering that no help was coming from the Department, Forest Secretary Deepak Sharma was approached over phone. Calm and measured at the start of the conversation, he was pretty annoyed when he was told that nobody was around to attend to the distress call at the DFO’s office as they were away at a farewell party. “Party time is in the evening, not in working hours. If no one is responding, then you should inform Mr S N Rai, the PCCF,” shot back Mr Sharma. No wonder, Greens see red whenever the Forest Department is commended. “What is the big point in the Tree Unit RFO (Jilani Pasha) inspecting the spot after the tree is completely felled? In most cases, they respond five to six hours later, only to collect the residual remains of the dead tree,” is the refrain of NGOs. “We can understand that the staff at the Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks cannot arrive at the spot of smuggling or poaching on time as they have rickety jeeps and outdated communication systems. But for the Forest Department to respond belatedly in the vicinity of the technology-savvy Bangalore, is ridiculous,” said the greens. God save our trees.
Until April this year, egrets and night herons would roost and breed in a cluster of trees in a BMP-maintained park in the IAS Officers’ Colony near BTM Layout. Now, with the young trees ripped out of their moorings and a concrete pathway made for the people to walk, the birds have moved home. As the story goes, the destruction was wreaked on the triangular mini-forest as the wife of an IAS officer desired that the pathway be extended to facilitate her morning walks. Swayed by the powers-that-be, the Bangalore Mahanagar Palike executed the “project” without a care in the world, despite protests. Apart from destroying the flourishing tree cover, the BMP, though aware of the stipulations laid down by the High Court, blatantly transgressed the Karnataka Tree Protection Act of 1976. More significantly, the BMP disregarded the Karnataka High Court order (WA 8178/1999, dated 29-7-03), which had directed the Karnataka Forest Department that two saplings had to be planted if it was to fell a tree. HC DECREE: Complying with the decree given by Justice M F Saldanha and Justice M S Rajendra Prasad, the KFD had written (August 2, 2003; No AP.V.CR.912/ 2003-04) to BMP, BDA and PWD, explaining that all orders that it had issued for felling trees for developmental activity stood cancelled. “Orders given till date where trees have not been cut are being withdrawn under Section 8 (1) of the Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act, 1976. Violation of the order would bear consequences such as contempt of court and action as per the Karnataka Tree Protection Act, 1976,” read the KFD communique. Mr S G Hegde, Deputy Commissioner, BMP (South) agreed that his officials were aware of the HC order, but wasn’t sure whether the trees were felled by BMP contractors. “I will personally visit the spot and assess the damage,” said Mr Hegde. Though Mr Hegde claimed that the residents were keen that the BMP go ahead with the ‘pathway’ project, the locals said quite the contrary. “We did not ask for it. Though we have been persistently asking the higher authorities to visit the spot, they did not show up,” said Dr Manjula Rao. Strangely, the KFD also did not respond to the call to protect the trees. The KFD is rankled that the BMP went ahead with the felling of trees without taking its clearance to do so. “From our records we gather that the BMP did not approach us in this regard. Evidently, it has not planted any saplings since executing the covert act,” said a KFD source.
About the distance of a cricket pitch from the Anil Kumble circle stands a gorgeous mahogany tree. It has been a part of our heritage, selflessly providing refuge to birds and shelter to vendors who sell their wares from fruits to dry flowers under its canopy. But, now the 70-year-old specimen is being threatened by a wood-cutter’s axe, notwithstanding the decree of the Karnataka High Court that no tree shall be felled without two saplings being planted in its immediate vicinity. That the tree is still around is a credit to a few entrepreneurs — Koshy’s, Barista and K C Das — who alerted Justice M F Saldanha about the indiscriminate act of a wood-cutter, armed with a contract handed to him by the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP). Well, if Justice Saldanha had not asked Karnataka Chief Secretary B S Patil to intervene, it could have well been reduced to a heap of fire wood. It would have added to the 30,000-odd trees that have fallen a prey to development works — widening of roads, infrastructure development — over the last few years. The story does not end here. It just about narrates how the government machinery works and how protecting trees in our ‘Garden City’ is becoming a dilemma for “tree samaritans” and active NGOs. So much so, that even the order of the High Court is disregarded. Even an individual in a commanding position of a judge is driven to despair by the BMP. Let’s read what Justice Saldanha has to say. “It is indeed a victory that the tree is still around. Mr Patil immediately sent a posse of policemen to stop the contractor from completing his task. However, there is no guarantee that other trees in our city could be protected as the BMP tells me that the High Court order (WA 8178/ 1999, dated 29-07-2003) has no bearing on the contracts issued much earlier by it (BMP). We seriously need to look into this,” said Justice Saldanha. What the BMP does not seem to understand is that it is bound by the HC ruling, though it may be acting indifferently under the compulsion of enraged contractors. The High Court does not create a new law. It only explains or clarifies the law. To that extent the HC order has retrospective effect. Therefore, the HC order would cover all contracts which would have been signed before the HC delivered its decree. The old contract would therefore have to comply to the law as laid down by the HC,” said Padam Chand Khincha, an expert in company law. The Karnataka Forest Department, which had sent a communique (No A9.V.CR.912/2003-04, dated August 2, 2003) to the BMP, BDA, PWD and other agencies, is baffled by the civic body’s stance. “We have clearly stated that we have withdrawn with immediate effect all orders issued to fell trees. “We have also informed that all tree felling orders given till date where the trees have not been cut are being withdrawn under Section 8 (1) of the Karnataka Preservation of Tree Act, 1976 with immediate effect,” said Bangalore Urban Division Deputy Conservator of Forests, Parameswara. But these arguments don’t hold good for the BMP and its contractors. It is also intriguing that a wood-cutter bags a contract for barely Rs 3,000 while wood harvested by felling invariably fetches Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 in the market. And, coming to think of it as a live and vibrant tree is priceless.
IN THE HIGH COURT
A division bench of the Karnataka High Court has suggested to the State Government, Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and Bangalore Development Authority that they should stop construction of anymore flyovers in the City which are destructive and instead resort to construction of underpasses. The bench comprising of Justice M F Saldanha and Justice M S Rajendra Prasad observed that Bangalore City’s flyover have already accounted for cutting of 9,800 trees and the City cannot afford to lose its green cover. The Court has emphasised that road engineers and city planners the world over has discontinued the construction of road bridges and flyover within cities and instead underground tunnels are preferred. The Court also pointed out that flyover have limited utility whereas underpasses can be diverted into several directions. The Division Bench noted that city planning engineers in advanced countries have found that in the case of a flyover the entire load factor rests on the bridge which causes causes cracks, moisture and the life span is hardly 18 to 20 years after which heavy maintenance is required. In the case of of an underground tunnel the load rests on the earth and the life-span is over one hundred years without maintenance, the Bench added.
Taking serious exception to the attempts made to cut a Mahogany tree on St Mark’s Road here, the Karnataka High Court has ordered for an investigation by the Lokayukta into the permission given to the wood-cutters by the Mahanagara Palike to cut old trees in the city. A division bench comprising Justice M F Saldanha and Justice M S Rajendra Prasad passed the order after receiving complaints from the public that fraud being committed in the process of auctioning of tree cutting. It has been reported to the HC that when citizens protested and refused to allow the wood-cutter to cut the Mahogany tree, he (the contractor) produced documents whereby the tree has been auctioned to him by the BMP for Rs 3,000. It was also informed to the HC that the “wood-cutter disclosed to the people that he was one of corporation’s regular wood-cutter and he stands to lose Rs 5 lakh because that is the actual market value of the 70-year-old Mahogany tree”.The bench observed that “the matter requires a proper investigation, preferably by Lokayukta."
ESG is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes the cause of environmental and social justice through research, documentation, advocacy, training and campaign support. We aim to support the rights of local communities and voiceless ecosystems in a responsible, progressive manner that keeps contextual complexities in mind.