BHUBANESWAR: Before the wave of ruthless urbanisation post-2000, Bhubaneswar was a city known for its envious canopy of trees. It was a city of calming breezes. Now that’s a thing of the past. Bhubaneswar is now a heat island that recorded 45.8 degree Celsius on April 11, the hottest April day since 1952.
As 75-year-old Amarendra Mohanty, a retired teacher, remembers it, “Bhubaneswar always was known for its mild summer and its trees, not only in
and around residential areas but also along the main thoroughfares. They have vanished.”
First it was the 1999 Supercyclone which uprooted all the huge trees, many of them were several decades old. Then the juggernaut of urbanisation rolled over the city. Roads were widened every year, flyovers were built, new public utilities came in and the real estate boom happened. Statistics available with the Works Department show that in last two years alone, 2,300 trees were felled to accommodate 34 projects.
The casualty has been the City’s climate. The central business district of the city sizzles during peak summer.
“The concept of ‘morning office’ in summer was never imposed in Government offices in Bhubaneswar unlike the rest of the State as the city was not considered hot enough to require it,” says conservationist Aditya Panda.
Experts point out that tree cover alone is not enough to take the sting out of the heat. Only if there is a continuous green canopy does it impact the microclimate of a place. Trees help recharge groundwater which in turn maintains the soil humidity, thereby absorbing heat.
The ruthless cutting down of old trees (such as mango, banyan, peepul and jackfruit) coupled with the filling up of wetlands that once existed in the
Daya and Mahanadi floodplains has turned the city into a hothouse. A large part of the city was carved out of what once used to be the Chandaka forest
and the undulating contours had seven natural drains. They are all gone.
The Bhubaneswar Development Authority which hired the services of IIT Kharagpur to prepare a master plan for the city several years ago did not stick to the zoning restrictions. As a result, building projects were allowed on marshlands, floodplains and natural streams and drains.
Besides, the year-on-year expansion of roads has added to the denudation. Increased use of bitumen for roads only aided heat retention and concretisation of pedestrian paths compounded the problem.
Similarly, fancy non-native species of trees that cannot sequester carbon are being planted in place of broadleaved indigenous trees.
Panda says, the apathy of the state forest administration to the destruction of the Chandaka-Dampara forest and its fragmented satellite, the Bharatpur Reserve Forest that lies within the city, has further escalated the local climate change as has the loss of groves and orchards that once existed on farmland that earlier surrounded Bhubaneswar.