The news that the country has been baking under a heatwave is not new, as we read reports of several states battling severe drought on a daily basis. What is more shocking is that Bengaluru, known as the air-conditioned city has also fallen prey to a sweltering heatwave.
So much so that it claimed two lives when a tanker ran over a couple sleeping on the road on Sunday to escape the humidity inside their home, according to this report by Deccan Herald.
Bengaluru’s temperature has been steadily rising in the past few years. Fans, coolers or even air conditioners were unheard of in this city, which was always blessed with a salubrious climate. Today, the day starts at 30 degrees Celsius and the temperature is expected to rise up to 37.
Last week, the city experienced its highest temperature of 40.9 degrees Celsius according to a Bangalore Mirror report, which quoted data collected by the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC). The weather forecast apps on smartphones have also recorded Bengaluru’s temperature touching 40 degrees Celsius.
However, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Bengaluru, rubbished the data provided by KSNDMC and smartphone, as inaccurate and that the temperature in the city was hovering only around 37 degree Celsius and might rise slightly higher.
Skymet weather reports that while summer crept in end March last year for Bengaluru, this year summer started as early as February. On February 22, the city recorded 35.5 degree Celsius, the highest in more than a decade.
Even as different weather forecasters are splitting hairs on whose data is more accurate, it is a truism that ‘good ol’ Bengaluru is gone forever. Three decades ago, many old Bengaluru homes did not have ceiling fans. Summers were short, lasting for barely a month and the daytime heat was followed by cool evening showers that brought down the temperature drastically. But today, with no clouds and humidity, evening showers are nowhere in sight.
So much has the city’s climate changed that prime advertising space in all local newspapers has been taken over by air cooler and air conditioner manufacturers. Offers, discounts and easy equated monthly instalments for ACs are splashed all over the papers.
What changed for Bengaluru?
The UN Sustainable development and climate change states in its website that the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities were the factors driving climate change and that they are expected to rise. “They are now at their highest levels in history. Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century and is likely to surpass 3 degrees Celsius this century—with some areas of the world expected to warm even more.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which creates the reports for the UN, stated: “From 1880 to 2012, average global temperature increased by 0.85 degree Celsius. To put this into perspective, for each 1 degree of temperature increase, grain yields decline by about 5 per cent. Maize, wheat and other major crops have experienced significant yield reductions at the global level of 40 mega tonnes per year between 1981 and 2002 due to a warmer climate.
However, IPCC added: “It is still possible, using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour, to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
So how can we bring in positive changes in Bengaluru?
Leo Saldana, campaigner of environment protection and coordinator for the Environment Support Group (ESG), told Firstpost: “Lakhs of trees have been cut down in Bengaluru in the last decade. In the peri-urban area, which is the green belt, green cover has been completely eroded due to the collusion between the tree mafia and forest department.”
“The canopy that trees provide, helps bring down the temperature by two to three degrees. With no mitigation from radiation, the heat-island effect has only maximized,” Saldana added.
According to the ESG website, last month a public hearing to review the proposed tree felling for the phase II of Bangalore metro, was cancelled for the third time by the forest wing of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). ESG states that the public hearing was essential keeping in mind the orders of the Karnataka High Court and the subsequent 2015 amendment carried out to the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act, 1976. Permission to any project requiring felling of over 50 trees must be preceded by a public hearing.
The hearing was for the proposed felling of 313 heritage trees on Kanakapura Road and Mysore Road as part of the Phase II expansion.
The Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited, BMRCL states that although 2,500 trees were felled for Phase I, 21,004 trees were planted instead. In Phase II, for the 313 trees that will be chopped down, BMRCL proposes to plant 9580 trees.
The BBMP has made forms available on its website where citizens have to seek permission to chop down trees whether on government or private property. An important question asked in this form is whether “the tree is dangerous to life or property.” The BBMP also has posted a statement from BMRCL that clarifies that 15,000 saplings were planted for the 2,500 trees which were felled for the Metro project.
The project is only a case in point. Whether 15,000 or 21,004 trees were planted to replace the 2500 chopped trees is not important. What needs to be understood is that Bengaluru’s tree cover is steadily being eroded in the name of development.
And even as Bengalureans are preparing themselves to brave the hottest summer in decades, they might want to rejoice over IMD Bengaluru’s forecast of “Partly cloudy sky with possibility of rain or thunderstorm or duststorm,” for the week ahead.
Now, let’s hope, IMD’s forecast is accurate!