CHENNAI: Chennai has the least green cover among the metropolitian cities in India. Records available with the Tamil Nadu State Land Use Research Board, a permanent body under the State Planning Commission, show that Chennai has only 6.25 per cent green cover as against the target of 33 per cent stipulated in the National Forest Policy.
However, the good thing is that the city’s green cover seems to have increased marginally in the last two years. The latest data available with IIT Madras projects it at 9 per cent thanks some good afforestation measures taken by government agencies like the Chennai Corporation. However, experts feel that even though there is a slight increase, it is no match to population growth.
Shiva Nagendra, professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at IIT Madras, said Chennai is one of the fastest growing metros with urbanization causing a 25 per cent spike in population, which is putting enormous pressure on green cover.
Sekhar Raghavan, founder of Rain Centre, pointed out that the city has lost up to 99 per cent of its green cover in some parts of the city since 2001. The built-up area in the city nearly doubled in this short period. Places like East Coast Road, Mount Road, and Besant Nagar Avenue saw a lot of tree cutting. Later, IT hubs like Sholinganallur and Sirisuri were put under pressure. Now, Tambaram, Pallavaram and the extension areas are coming under the axe.
Ajay Kumar Saxena, an expert in urban forestry at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said forest cover creates a microclimate that will reduce the heat to a great extent. The difference of 7 degrees Celsius from IIT Madras and T Nagar recorded by an Express survey of temperature readings across Chennai on Friday is no surprise, he said.
Rakesh Sarbjeet, a climate change expert, said besides improving its green cover, Chennai should also evolve mitigation measures like proper urban planning and addressing civic issues like giving shelter to beggars who often succumb during heat waves.
Shobha Menon, founder of Nizhal, an NGO that prepared a draft Tree Act recommending the setting-up of a Tree Aauthority, said: “We don’t need statistics to prove how land use patterns have adversely affected the environment. Large infrastructure projects like the metro rail have certainly affected green spaces like the Nehru Park and Thiru Vi Ka Park in Shenoy Nagar. Many indigenous species have fallen by the wayside over the years.”
She said, “I often wonder why citizens are so apathetic to their own environment, one that can only add value to their own lives if they care for it better. We need more local residents involved in caring and nurturing the green cover around them, whether during planting, maintaining young saplings.”