As a Banglorean who has and continues to get the opportunity to travel around the country, one thing you often hear from individuals from other cities is how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to live in Bangalore. And most of the time this adulation for my city is not due to the sprawling and ever growing IT and BT sector that you often hear the certain influential rich talk about in the media. But the aam aadmi of this country genuinely envies residents of this metro city as they believe that unlike any other metro we have the best and incomparable climate and access to green spaces. Unfortunately like many others I respond with a “it’s not the same anymore,” and I can see the disappointment in their faces.
Bangalore was rightfully called the Garden City of this country because of its rich flora, renowned botanical gardens and abundant water bodies. I use the past tense as Bangalore chose to replace this title with the IT and BT capital of the country. Like many big cities of India, Bangalore has been subject to rapid urbanisation, unsustainable consumption and changing lifestyles. All of this has led to land transformations around the city which has caused a threat to our urban ecology and environment. This loss in ecology has serious consequences on the micro climate of the city which in turn affects the health of the people.
Research suggests that the degradation of Bangalore’s environment is taking place much faster as the changes that took place over 30 years in the past are now happening in a much smaller time frame of 5 years. Today there is a decline of 76% of our vegetation cover and 79% in our water bodies and apart from the urban sprawl this can also be attributed to the haphazard and unplanned development by our governing bodies, the BBMP and the BDA.
In the last two or three years Bangalore has lost over 50,000 trees in the name of development activities. Most of these trees are over 150 years old and form a huge part of our culture and heritage. The axing of trees overnight, that have taken many years to grow can be termed under illogical and not sustainable development. This forest cover within the city is a carbon sink and helps in maintaining Bangalore’s pleasant climate that we as Bangloreans take pride in. While the BBMP as per law is supposed to follow a long legal process of consulting with the public before they can cut down trees in public spaces. We have seen in the case at Sankey Road that no such process was adhered to and after a closed door auction for timber, 17 trees were illegally felled and no member of BBMP was pulled up or held accountable.
Similarly lakes, tanks and wetlands are vanishing or drying up very quickly from around the city either due to private encroachments or pollution from industrial effluents. These water bodies are known to be an ecological barometer of any city, recharge the groundwater, play a role in regulating our climate and are spots of biodiversity. In 2008, the High Court of Karnataka had ordered an independent investigation into the privatisation of lakes throughout Karnataka. The finding of the investigation and subsequent order was very clear that they are not to be developed for commercial use and should be preserved and maintained in good condition. Despite the fact that these water bodies are of utmost importance and the judicial decision, privatisation and exploitation of these lakes continues around Bangalore.
While our forest cover and lakes are sacrificed in the name of development or for private interests, our farmlands in Bangalore have been sold to real estate barons and that has triggered a shortage of vegetables and price escalation. Twelve years ago, the city sourced its greens and vegetables from its green feeder zones but with agriculture replaced by real estate, areas within a radius of 100km around the city have stopped growing vegetables. As consumers we often have a huge problem with increased prices of vegetables and are often quick to blame the farmer or shop owner without realising that one of the main reasons is land being deviated away from farming for private players.
Bangalore’s environment has changed tremendously and we have lost more than we have gained over the years. Apart from losing our green cover, water bodies and plantations, we have adopted many more problems which cannot be wished away in the name of development. Most of the answer to our problems lies in preserving and nurturing our ecology and finding solutions in the sustainable use of our land and learning to live with nature. I believe that the real treasure that we pass on to our future generations is not the concrete that we have created destroying our environment but instead a truly sustainable garden city.
Sustainable agriculture campaigner Greenpeace India