There used to be a huge tamarind tree where the road turned into Sumangali Seva Ashrama Road. Children played under it, birds nested in it and it made for a cool shade in summer. Back then, summers were bearable. Slowly, all trees disappeared on both sides of the road. We would wait for a bus under a tree, now there is a tiny tin shed that functions as a bus stop. There is no place for an old woman like me. I have to wait in the sun,” says Sunandamma who has lived near Hebbal, close to Bellary Road, for most of her life.
A study of Bangalore Urban Forest by NH Ravindranath and P Sudha, published in 2000, states, “Groves of mango and tamarind existed in Bangalore, at least a couple of centuries back, in a village named Mavalli (mango village). The spread of the city engulfed many of the villages around Bangalore. Many tanks and reservoirs were created taking advantage of the undulating terrain of the city. Due to rapid urbanisation and high land pressure many of these tanks have now been switched over to other land -uses, such as bus stands, stadiums and playgrounds.”
Once was green
Another study highlights what city environmentalists have cautioned us about time and again and citizens have long feared. In a recent study led by Dr Harini Nagendra at Ashoka Trust for Environment and Ecology locations on ten Bangalore roads, with and without trees, were analysed. The concluding results may be too hot to handle. The group found that street segments with trees had on average lower temperature, humidity and pollution, with afternoon air temperatures lower by as much as 5.6 degrees Celsius, road surface temperatures lower by an astounding 27.5 degrees Celsius.
Sulfur dioxide levels were reduced by as much as 65 per cent. Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) levels were also very high on treeless roads.
Prof K VijayRaghavan, former director of NCBS TIFR, Bangalore and presently secretary Department of Biotechnology, Goverment of India and a resident of the city, feels, “A green city is, of course, ecologically and environmentally vital; and a goal we must pursue. But there is another aspect that we often forget. Spaces in general and green spaces in particular make our sensibilities and our personalities as citizens.”
Health at a loss
Doctors say smoking and pollution related lung disorders such as chronic bronchitis and respiratory allergies are on the rise among city dwellers.
Rita, who lives near Doddaballapur Road, says, “All trees on both sides of the road were cut about three years ago. Since then, huge buildings are being constructed on the other side and cement, sand and dust are constantly blowing into our eyes and clothes. There is not point in hanging clothes out to dry for they will be coated by dust. We are tired of the constant sound of vehicles, I am constantly afflicted by allergies. Trees act as filters of sound and air, too.”
Prof N.H Ravindranath at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies and Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, says, “To my knowledge, there is no collaborating programme at all between the BBMP or any other city based body and IISc that involves urban greening. In fact, researchers working on climate change, suggest urban trees as a solution for global warming for they reduce requirements for air conditioning and energy. Even carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.”
Space for all
Anurag Behar, VC of Azim Premji University, Bangalore says, “Bangalore has an extraordinary treasure in its trees and we have not behaved very responsibly towards them and cut them indiscriminately. It takes 80 to 100 years to grow a tree but only an hour to cut it.”
In a recent article of his, he says green spaces in cities act as class levelers, “GKVK (Gandhi Krishi Vignyan Kendra) exemplifies such a public space. That it is beautiful, I have already said. They keep it clean, not in a synthetic ornamental way, but like a naturally growing wood. Three other factors make it a vibrant space. It is not ensconced in some posh area - this makes it physically accessible to all. It is not officiously governed and an enlightened choice has been made to let the university grounds be accessible to the public. Having run in more than 100 cities in India, I know how rare that is. Most importantly, it is not cordoned off by social barriers of privilege, felt intuitively and acutely by the less privileged. Construction workers and SUV owners alike use it and neither hesitate to come over.”
Street segments with trees had on average lower temperature, humidity and pollution. With afternoon air temperatures lower by as much as 5.6 degrees Celsius, the road surface temperatures lowered significantly.