Bengaluru, our green cover is under threat once again.
8561 trees are proposed to be cut for a road-widening project, in order to decongest the tech corridor. Existing two-lane and four-lane roads will be converted into four-lane and six-lane ones on the stretch between Bannerghatta, Sarjapur, Mandur, Anekal and Whitefield. Some of these trees are over 80 years old and include peepal, banyan, tamarind and other species.
In just the past couple of years, air pollution has risen drastically in Bengaluru, with construction dust, garbage burning and the rise in private vehicles leading to more emissions. In the midst of this, the city’s old trees are a natural buffer and their loss for development projects will lead to worsening impact of climate change, not to mention the health effects of air pollution.
Timeline of the project
Details of court proceeding
A Writ Petition (W.P) 605/2021 was filed before the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court at Bengaluru.
On 13th January 2021, the Hon’ble High Court issued Notices to all four respondents namely the KRDCL, State of Karnataka, Karnataka Forest Department and MoEF&CC.
The main issues raised in the PIL:
- The project is a “new State Highway project” categorised under item 7 (f) of the EIA Notification, 2006 and is located within 5 kms from critically polluted areas of Jigani and Bamasandra industrial estate, within 5 kms from the State borders of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and within 5 kms from notified ESZ and boundary of the Bannerghatta National Park, thus an Environment Clearance is required from the MoEF.
- A Stretch of the project is planned through the ESZ and cuts across the core area of the Bannerghatta National Park for which Forest and Wildlife Clearance from the MoEF.
- The project does not satisfy the definition of “Sustainable Development” and also not in line with India’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2031
- Non-disclosure of project related information amounts to infringement of Fundamental Right to Information.
- On 13th January 2021, the Hon’ble High Court issued Notices to all four respondents namely the KRDCL, State of Karnataka, Karnataka Forest Department and MoEF&CC & posted the matter for hearing on Feb 24th.
- Subsequently, on Feb 24th, the respondent for KRDCL requested for time & the matter was posted to March 30th
- On March 25th, Petitioner No 3 Rajani Santosh filed an affidavit to present before the court that work is being undertaken by KRDCL since the last date of hearing i.e 24th Feb 2021 in the ecologically sensitive zone of the Bannerghatta National Park alongside the Tiger Corridor. This includes tree-felling, hill cutting, filling up of lands for a bypass road at Krishnadoddi, encroachment of a stream by the KRDCL road by Construction of a new bridge between Uraganadoddi to Krishnadoddi and the maps of Tiger Corridor abutting the road being widened) Read here
- On March 30th, the Hon’ble High Court has considered the affidavit so filed and directed the KRDCL to file their response to the main PIL and the affidavit within a week’s time i.e. 7th April 2021.
- On April 7th, the Hon’ble High Court took cognizance of the response filed by respondent No 1, KRDCL on the above affidavit. According to KRDCL, there were no trees in the stretch but also mention that the trees seen to be felled are not felled by them. Thus, the high court has directed the state government to conduct an enquiry to find out the real culprit.
On other issues, the court deemed it fit to hear the main PIL on merits and hence has posted the case for final hearing on 7th June 2021.
In June 2020, three professors from Azim Premji University conducted a Rapid Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the entire project stretch of 155.21km and the following environmental issues associated with this project came to light:
The road-widening project will lead to
- health issues from increased pollution
- urban heat islands
- loss of heritage trees
- loss of urban biodiversity
- threat to forest ecosystems
- loss of religious places
- threat to lakes and
- reduction in carbon sequestration
- The proposed stretches pass through crucial biodiversity habitats that include the Jamasundra Mini Forest and the Anekal Reserve Forest contiguous with the Bannerghatta National Park, as well as scrubland and agricultural fields. Disturbances of these stretches can negatively impact fauna including the endangered Slender Loris accorded protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Recently, a Slender Loris was rescued by the residents of Sarjapura through which a large section of the proposed new State Highway passes. Residents have also recorded other species such as the palm civet, the Indian Hare and the Indian Jackal in the area.
- The total number of trees that will be felled along the 155.21 km, is likely to be much higher than the estimated 8,561 trees. The Report records that there is a systematic mismatch with tree numbers surveyed stretches being higher than those in the Pre-Feasibility report and news reports.
- There are several massive heritage trees on these stretches, the loss of which will be irreplaceable. The Report records two massive Banyan trees with a grith of 14.9, and 17.7m, an impressive 50 feet tall Banyan tree on the road from Nelamangala to Madure. One Banyan tree on Besthamanahalli to Hoskote stretch has a girth of 10m. Other tree species that will be lost include peepul, Mysore fig, raintree, need, teak, tamarind and Jamun.
- 15 scared ‘Ashwathkattes’ marked for removal. ‘Ashwathkattes’ are raised platforms with neem and peepul trees and snake shrines at their base that have immense religious and social significance for residents.
- Impact on 14 lakes was recorded. The road-widening project will severely affect groundwater recharge, flood control and biodiversity in these lakes. The resulting environmental deterioration will also impact the livelihoods of local grazers and fishermen.
- During the time of the study, it was observed that road work has already begun and several large and old trees have been cut to lopped in three stretches: Bannerghatta to Besthmanahalli, Kanchugaranahalli to Jigani and Budigere Cross to Mylanahalli. In the Kanchugaranahalli to Jigani 51 trees were found to have been cut already.
- The report further notes that lack of systematic planning for transportation infrastructure in cities like Bengaluru should ideally move after demonstrated need, rigorous attention to specific details and efforts to minimize and mitigate the impact and transparency.