While the attention of people was diverted towards the lockdown and its fallout, Bengaluru’s civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has quietly allowed the chopping of 123 trees for the construction of the Pink Line metro rail project undertaken by the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited. On June 7, the BMRCL began cutting trees along Bannerghatta Road, even as the Karnataka High Court was yet to issue directions to the BBMP in this regard. On June 9, more trees were cut on this stretch, during the night.
Visuals of the trees being cut were widely shared on social media show the Bannerghatta Road, towards the Jayanagar fire station completely devoid of trees. The trees were cut despite the Karnataka High Court asking the Special Committee for Trees on May 5 to survey all trees that the BMRCL meant to cut once again. So, how were so many trees cut without public knowledge?
In December 2019, Dattatraya T Devare of Bangalore Environment Trust filed a PIL against felling of trees for the metro construction in the Karnataka High Court. After several hearings over the months, Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka, had issued an order dated March 4, where it had asked the Special Committee for Trees to issue recommendations to the BBMP as a plan of action regarding cutting down trees along the Bannerghatta Road.
In April 2019, BBMP had formed the Special Committee for Trees with Ganesan from the Ashoka Trust for Research on Ecology and Environment (ATREE) and Muthu Kumar from Indian Wood Science, along with retired officials from the Forest Department. The committee had recommended in April that the BBMP issue a public notice for cutting the tree as per the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act 1976 and the High Court’s directions.
More recently, on May 22, the BBMP issued a public notice regarding chopping the trees on its website. Speaking to TNM, Deputy Controller of Forests, BBMP, Ranganatha Swamy, said that the committee had recommended that a notice be issued. As per the Karnataka Tree Preservation Act, the BBMP invited objections to the public notice. “We waited for 16 days. The Tree Act clearly states that if no objections are received after 15 days of issuing a public notice, then BBMP can cut the trees that have been identified,” Ranganatha Swamy said.
Dattatreya Devare, however, filed objections to the BBMP’s notice on June 1.
But on day 17 (June 7), BBMP gave BMRCL the green signal to cut down the trees for the metro construction project, Ranaganatha Swamy said.
BBMP now claims it had consulted the committee. “We did wait for objections and after meeting with the Tree Committee, we gave the go ahead,” Ranganatha Swamy told TNM.
Speaking to TNM, Muthu Swamy from IWS said that the committee had only recommended transplanting the trees and not cutting them as the High Court had directed them to save as many trees as possible. “We had recommended to only transplant the trees. No where have we said that trees can be cut,” he added.
The civic body has also neglected a crucial direction issued by the court on May 5.
Chief Justice Abhay Sreenivas Oka had directed the Special Committee for Trees to conduct a fresh survey of all trees identified by BMRCL for chopping. The High Court had noted that the main objective was to save as many trees as possible.
It is not clear from the authorities as to how many trees have been cut so far as no proper documentation has been presented to the public. The BBMP website shows that 123 trees would be affected in phase 2 (R2 extension) of the Bengaluru metro project. The Metro has not shared information on how many of these trees are to be cut, transplanted or saved, despite repeated attempts.
Canopy of trees on Bannerghatta road, before the metro struck its axe.
What activists say
Arun Prasad, an activist from Bengaluru said that there was no transparency in the manner in which both the BBMP and BMRCL went about cutting these trees. “They have gone ahead and finished their procedures while the courts were shut. The trees which are meant to be cut have not been marked properly, so we don't know exactly which trees are supposed to be cut. In this situation, they will be able to do whatever they want, and cut any tree as they please,” he said.
He went on to state that proper procedure has not been followed. “Even the trees which are meant for transplantation have not been processed properly. Pictures show that the canopy of the tree meant for transplantation has been cut completely, which is not the way that it is supposed to be done. Such a tree will not survive transplantation! The whole exercise of the expert tree committee is now highly questionable,” he added.
Rajani Santosh, another environmental activist in the city said that the trees were cut neglecting the court’s directions. “Do we have that many trees in Bangalore? It is not clear because the tree census has not yet begun, even though it has been ordered by the High Court. We don't know what percentage of the trees in the city are being cut and so we don't know how much is being lost."
BMRCL has said that they have followed the procedure and taken permission to cut the trees.
The High Court meanwhile on Wednesday stayed the tree cutting for the time being.