DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 24 :: "Smart City" and trees

http://www.bagchiblog.blogspot.com



It was heartening to see this morning the informal organizations in Bhopal have uniting and collectively deciding to oppose building o the proposed “Smart City” in Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar area. There have been lots of write-ups in the vernacular press,m interviews of the affected residents and enumeration of the environmental consequences. Surprisingly, the English language press has displayed indifference to the matter. Perhaps they do not wish to be on the wrong side of the government. Nonetheless, the government seems to have had a rethink and is undertaking a survey and a count of trees.

For quite some time I have been insisting that building the proposed “Smart City” in the Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar area would adversely impact their micro-climate in particular and the climate of Bhopal in general. I have been saying that just like the Central Business District (CBD)that is coming up in place of the erstwhile South TT Nagar has raised the temperature of the area the proposed “Smart City” (PSC) would also raise the local ambient temperature. A local newspaper has now confirmed and has shown how the hot season temperatures vary in the town from area to area depending on existence or absence of trees.

People’s Samachar, a Hindi daily has gone and done an empirical study by recording the day temperatures in several areas including the CBD and PSC area. The study has found a difference of at least three degrees, i.e. while the CBD recorded 410 C the temperature in Shivaji Nagar was 380 C at more or less the same time. To further prove the point, the study found the Hamidia Road area as hot as the CBD. Here too, as the newspaper said, one wouldn’t find a tree even if one conducted an intense search.

The city and its surroundings have lost enormous number of trees in the last few years not only because of the ever-expanding urban sprawl but various projects that have been executed in the city and around it. The CBD, BRTS and the Narmada Water projects have caused felling of thousands of trees very close to or inside the town. Now one finds that the laying the third railway line from Bina to Bhopal has also resulted in elimination of thousands of trees, mostly close to the town. Likewise, despite a strict no no, construction work in the catchment area of the Upper Lake has also not ceased. The government is the biggest defaulter in this regard. It is because of their apathy (or was it ignorance?) the Sports Authority of India, Sair Sapata, the Jagaran University and other such institution came up in the catchments of the Lake sacrificing numerous trees and farmlands.

Then there is a building spree and more and more hills, valleys, farmlands and forests are being progressively gobbled up. What is more, every year the property fairs are held by builders under the benign support of the government. It would seem that a ceaseless building activity for construction of residential complexes is being undertaken for which permission is apparently given with great felicity. Of course, some time the permission is not even sought and the buildings come up which is why we get a lsge number of unauthorized colonies. The net result is that the city has expanded so much that from some areas it takes as much as an hour or more to reach the local airport. Is it this kind of development (vikas) the government is looking for? If such activities do not stop in quick time Bhopal, which has already lost its reputation of being equable in climate and sizzles in the hot season as, say, Gwalior will soon lose its underground water reserves. Most of the new colonies depend only on sub-soil water. Without any insistence on water-harvesting depletion of the reserves will be sooner than later. With trees gone at the current rate Bhopal would soon turn into a Marathwada town – water-scarce with resultant acute human misery.

One tends to wonder as to why the Bhopal authorities in the municipality and the government do not appreciate the role of trees and the ecological services they render. THE ECOLOGICAL SERVICES THEY PROVIDE FOR FREE ARE 1) REDUCED AIR POLLUTION, 2) STORM WATER CONTROL PREVENTING SURFACE RUN-OFF, 3) CARBON STORAGE, 4) IMPROVED WATER QUALITY 5) REDUCED ENERGY CONSUMPTION AND 6) POSITIVE EFFECT ON HUMAN PSYCHE. BESIDES, ACCORDING TO THE US DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, ONE HUNDRED TREES REMOVE 53 TONS OF CARBON DIOXIDE AND 430 POUNDS OF OTHER AIR POLLUTANTS PER YEAR, ONE HUNDRED MATURE TREES CATCH ABOUT 139,000 GALLONS OF RAINWATER PER YEAR AND STRATEGICALLY PLACED TREES SAVE UP TO 56% ON ANNUAL AIR-CONDITIONING COSTS. BESIDES, ONE HEALTHY PUBLIC TREE IN ITS 20TH YEAR AFTER PLANTING PROVIDES $96 IN BENEFITS AND ONLY COSTS $36, FOR AN ANNUAL NET BENEFIT OF $60. ONE HUNDRED HEALTHY YARD TREES OVER 40 YEARS PROVIDE $364,000 IN BENEFITS AND ONLY COST $92,000, FOR A 40-YEAR NET BENEFIT OF $272,000. ONE HUNDRED HEALTHY PUBLIC TREES OVER 40 YEARS PROVIDE $380,000 IN BENEFITS AND ONLY COST $148,000, FOR A 40-YEAR NET BENEFIT OF $232,000. 

The contention of the government that by creating the “Smart City” it is going unlock the value of the government land is, therefore, fallacious. The land with tree cover has been contributing to a great extent to the people and will continue to do so if left undisturbed by way of the ecosystem services. To my mind, it would be suicidal to chop the trees which are our “Natural Capital”.

Today, the buzz-word is “vikas” and it has become a fetish. Whether people like it or not, whether it would be beneficial for them or not it would be rammed down their throats. Every project, good or bad, brings a lot of benefits for those in authority who promote them. I am in complete agreement with RK Raghavan, the former Director CBI, when he recently said that nothing – whether a civil project or defence procurement project – in the government moves unless politicians and bureaucrats are bribed. Such a thing seems to have happened with the Gammon Project when rumours were rife that a huge sum of money was paid by the firm to politicians.

One suspects that the same is the case with the “Smart City” project. The stakes, apparently, are huge for those who are pushing it.

*Photo: from internet




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