Residents, passers-by and activists living around the Old Airport Road and Suranjan Das Road junction (the HAL junction) in Bengaluru were in for a rude shock on Monday morning as they saw around 10 full-grown trees razed to the ground. The residents said the trees were surreptitiously cut over the weekend by the authorities without informing the public at large, even though there was significant public opposition. A total of 25 trees are set to be cut to pave the way for an underpass, according to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).
Swathi Damodaran, a resident-activist, who assembled for a small protest in the area on Monday, said, “I was just passing by when I spotted these trees were axed. Around two years ago, we had held a human chain protest in the same area, making it clear that we do not want these trees to be cut.”
BBMP is cutting these trees to build an underpass, to make the T-junction signal free. The Bengaluru civic body said that they have strictly adhered to the instructions of the expert committee for cutting the trees. The committee, comprising experts of government and non-government bodies, was constituted following the direction of the Karnataka High Court based on ongoing litigation. The case was filed by Devare DT, trustee of the Bangalore Environment Trust (BET), who had approached the court for relief over indiscriminate felling of trees in Bengaluru and its surroundings in the name of infrastructural projects.
Speaking with TNM, Ranaganatha Swamy, Deputy Conservator of Forests, BBMP, said they are cutting the trees only after following the due process. “We had initially sought to cut 48 trees. Around one week ago, the expert committee gave us permission to cut 25 trees. Based on their suggestion, we have also changed the alignment of the underpass to save 16 trees. We will translocate seven trees out of the ones we cut,” he said.
While the expert committee, headed by a senior Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, had given the nod for cutting these trees after a field inspection, activists said they were kept in the dark about the findings of the expert committee. They said that not informing them and not giving them an opportunity to scrutinise the expert committee’s recommendations is non-transparent and unilateral.
“The expert committee recommendations were not circulated among the public at large. So, as a general public, I am not made aware of what these recommendations are. We have not been given an opportunity to object to and question this expert committee report. We do not know when the permission was sought and when it was cleared,” Veena Krishnan, a lawyer-activist told TNM.
“Trees are a commons resource. They cannot be treated as government property and be cut without holding public consultations. But now, the trees have already been cut and the place looks like a graveyard now,” she added.
According to the BBMP official, however, sharing the expert committee report with the public is not required by law.