For months now, Bengaluru’s civic body – the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike – has been continuing with plans for widening Jayamahal Road, despite widespread public opposition to the project’s environmental cost.
It has now emerged that the two committees responsible for monitoring the city’s tree cover and the environmental cost of such projects (the Greening Committee for Bengaluru North and the Co-ordination/Samnvay committee) have remained non-existent for the past two years.
This admission has been made by the Public Information Officer of the BBMP Commissioner’s office in a Right to Information reply to NGO Jhatkaa.
Moreover, the BBMP admitted that despite multiple objections (as many as 30,000) from citizens, the civic body has not done any feasibility studies on the proposed road widening project.
According to BBMP estimates, the number of trees set to be cut or translocated for the project is as many as 112, while other independent studies suggest the number could be much higher.
The BBMP’s insistence to go ahead with the project affecting 112 trees, Jhatkaa argues in a news statement, is in contravention of the Karnataka High Court’s orders on tree-felling.
The Karnataka High Court, in an August 2014 ruling, had said that felling of trees should be considered an exception rather than a rule, and only after the Tree Officer and Tree Authority have fully explored and certified that all alternatives have been considered regarding the feasibility of the felling of trees.
The RTI replies also reveal that the BBMP has no prior experience with transplanting uprooted trees. However, the BBMP Commissioner has maintained that at least 45 of those trees will be translocated.
The road widening project on Jayamahal Road had originally been proposed as part of the controversial steel flyover project, which was scrapped following stay orders from the National Green Tribunal and the Karnataka High Court. However, the BBMP resolved to continue with the widening of Jayamahal Road even though the larger project was scrapped.
“The RTI responses shockingly reveal BBMP’s lackadaisical and arbitrary approach to the issue of tree felling. They have categorically stated that there was no other choice. But how do they know they do not have a choice without conducting any traffic research, feasibility surveys or scientific studies to come up with alternative proposals? We fail to understand the lack of application of mind with regards to axing of trees by BBMP,” Jhatkaa’s Executive Director Avijit Michael said in a statement.
Alleging that the civic body was misleading the residents about the city’s green cover, Avijit added, “It has become amply clear that due processes which have been laid out to ensure preservation of Bengaluru’s Green Heritage are not being followed at all! The BBMP, it seems, wants to mislead Bangaloreans and civil society groups, and rob them of their participation and oversight on this issue.”
BBMP Commissioner Manjunath Prasad, however, denied that such studies were required for the project. "A feasibility study is not required," he told The News Minute.
"We also have judgments where it says that it's not required. It's just a road widening. For every widening, we can't have environmental assessment impact studies. It is a routine work that the corporation does," he added.