Who Killed Bangalore Trees?
Updated: May 3, 2021
So much has been written about BBMP’s callousness in cutting down trees in the name of road widening that nobody seems to talk about the elephant in the room, the public. BBMP did not cut down the trees, but they merely reacted to a situation that was caused by the affluent public. It was our refusal to adjust to the environment we live in, that cut down those trees. It was our hesitation to come out of the comfort of our personal vehicles and take public transport that cut down those trees. We will cause more trees to be cut in the future, as the roads can never be wide enough to support our relentless quest for prosperity and comfort.
Despite the amount of automation, I am surrounded with, why am I never seem to be having enough time to do my daily chores? Despite the electronic and mechanical support I have, why am I still late for office? So, if I have to make a final dash to the office at the nick of time, so that I do not miss that all important meeting, how can I waste my time waiting for a bus to take me to the office? I now have an excuse to use my personal vehicle, because I live a life that runs on a fast lane, and I never seem to be running fast enough to catch up with it. Not so long ago, my grocery shopping used to be done through a leisurely walk to the nearby corner shop on a lazy Sunday morning. Now I cannot stop my urge to take my car to a faraway mall to buy my grocery in the comforts of a climate-controlled world that malls offer. I need options to spend the extra savings that I have today, and that often induces a newfound need for me to be more mobile, and I need space. “Give way trees”.
Government has already ordered for more axes that will cut through the trunks of many trees so that Bangalore can have elevated roads. Those who believe in the theory that the elevated road will address Bangalore traffic problems, need to look no further than the so called “signal free corridor”, the infamous IT corridor along outer ring road from KR Puram to Sarjapur. Lot of concrete and bitumen flowed in to make several flyovers and underpasses along this stretch so that the IT executives can zoom towards the airport to boost Indian IT export revenue. What happened? If you can travel along this road on 3rd or 4th gear of your vehicle, then only possibility is that you must be driving during a bandh, national holiday or middle of the night. This stretch is like a traffic glacier during business hours, that moves ever so slowly.
This is just a manifestation of the lack of planning that this city has been witnessing. The famous Parkinson’s law states “Work expands to the time available”. I would borrow this law and modify it to traffic as follows “Traffic expands to the space available on road”. More space you create, more you are encouraging people to use personal vehicles. In developed countries, there are 16 lane highways that are chock-a-block with vehicles. What does that suggest? The answer is simple: The wider the roads are the more vehicles that are going to pour into those new-found spaces. So just how much is “wide enough”? Perhaps roads can never be wide enough. We will be cutting down more and more trees, as we need more space to swim the tide of this nation’s economic growth that far outpaces the infrastructure we have to support this growth. No one is going to question our complicity in this crime because we have a great alibi to this crime: Economic growth.
So can economy and ecology ever coexist peacefully? I get tax exemption by producing my fuel bills, but I do not get any tax exemption by producing my bus tickets. It is the oil that runs the world stupid! Why should the trees be sacrificed at the altar of GDP? Can the nation’s economic growth be achieved without sacrificing environment? Yes, it can, provided governments have the will and citizens have the inclination to protect nature. Lack of these two is a recipe for disaster. Like other Indian cities, an ecological disaster is looming large over Bangalore horizons unless we act soon.
THE DEFIANT TREE. A surrealistic work using Acrylic on Canvas 19.5 x 30 inches.
It depicts the rapid loss of tree cover around Bangalore due to urbanisation. To the right is old Bangalore. Left is the new Bangalore. Before IT boom started the city was much greener. With IT came prosperity and more cars on the road. Trees were then cut down for buildings and wider roads. Divergence of the road on the bottom right shows this shift in the growth pattern of the city. Roads and buildings are challenging the last standing tree, but the tree stands defiant amidst the ruins. Bus tickets (that I collected over the years while commuting to office) indicate the importance of public transport and how it can save the trees.
BMTC has done a tremendous job to introduce Vajra (Volvo) bus service to lure the affluent car driving passengers and it has succeeded to a great extent, going by the crowded Vajra buses that we see in Bangalore. As the city continues to grow, more needs to be done to expand this service. Today Vajra service is available mainly along the arterial roads. That is not attracting many potential passengers who are currently hesitant in taking the bus, as the service is not available from their doorsteps. So, including residential areas within these bus routes will ensure that most of these passengers will leave their cars at home and take the bus. High rise apartment complexes are only adding to the traffic woes due to the heavy concentration of car-dependent people living in a small land area. BMTC should connect with the builders or the owners of these high-rise apartments so that bus services can be introduced linking these buildings.
Why not penalize a car driver if he is found driving along a busy corridor, if the car is not filled to capacity? This will definitely encourage carpooling. Many years ago, London introduced the traffic congestion tax on certain busy areas of the city and it required a complex software to detect the traffic movement and charge the car owners accordingly. This software was developed by an Indian software firm. Why cannot we use our software prowess for the benefit of our own societies?
These are some of the questions that we need to answer if we need to prevent more trees being cut down in the name of road widening. So, before we blame the authority for being callous, let us ask ourselves. What have we done to improve the traffic situation in Bangalore? As I sit down behind the wheel of my car to make yet another race over the graves of the trees that fell along the roadside I do not even have the privilege to shed few tears. But then I guess a criminal should not ask for such privileges.