Citizens and activists come together to save Hyderabad's green cover

Water-starved Hyderabad is in for a much bigger and long-lasting crisis. The challenge is monstrous: water scarcity would amplify and oxygen will be in short supply due to rapid concretisation in the sun-baked city.

When planting saplings and growing greenery are seen as a panacea to the drought and heat-wave conditions, the once-cooler Hyderabad is seemingly moving in a diametrically opposite direction. Denizens of other cities used to be envious of the cooler climate of the city until 1995.

Trees are being cut for developmental projects in Hyderabad. Representational image. Reuters

Trees are being cut for developmental projects in Hyderabad. Representational image. Reuters

The city earmarked 3,100 trees for felling to develop the ambitious Strategic Road Development Project (SRDP) under the Telangana Government. This naturally depletes the groundwater. The biggest and immediate casualty in the process will be hundreds of trees, flora and fauna along a stretch in the 400-acre KBR National Park in Hyderabad.

As the official machinery marked the trees for felling, some citizens voiced their concern. What started as a concern has now transformed into a movement. It’s a few steps away from emerging into a full-fledged agitation.

The Government of Telangana has proposed a manifold development of Hyderabad with multi-level flyovers, skywalks and grade separators. No objection to that. There is, in fact, an all-round commendation. The first phase, if the land acquisition and acquisition of properties is completed without any hassles, will have 50 flyovers at 18 junctions in the city in five packages at an estimated cost of Rs 1,096.71 crore.

Multi-level flyovers are proposed at six junctions around KBR Park at an estimated cost of Rs 510 crore. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) needs to acquire nine acres of land from the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) in the KBR Park. This razes greenery, flora and fauna to the ground.

As many as 320 properties (260 private and 60 government) were identified for acquisition for implementing the SRDP. Some central agencies like Survey of India, whose 12 acres of land may have to be taken over by the GHMC, are reluctant to allow the land survey measurements.

While the SRDP is now traversing on a bumpy road, the major hurdle has come from the environmentally conscious citizens.

Uma Chilak of Robin Hood Army has told Firstpost that almost 1,900 trees will be cut in and around KBR Park as part of the SRDP. The trees have been marked with red paint.

Explaining the city's depleting green cover, Chilak said that hundreds of trees were chopped off for widening the Shankarpalli Road and students of Chaitanya Bharati Institutue of Technology (CBIT) took some pictures and brought it to the knowledge of the Uday Krishna of Vata Foundation.

“We have felt as to why are we not able to do anything to prevent this. When trees were identified for felling at Botanical Gardens in Kondapur, the authorities did not permit us to translocate them. We had to seek a legal recourse and of the 14 trees relocated, at least 10 survived,” Chilak said.

Chilak pointed out that the efforts of the activists are falling on deaf ears and there is a general official apathy. However, the offer of translocation of the trees has received some positive vibes. While the officials want the activists to take up the relocation, resources are coming in the way. Some enthusiasts have come forth to donate land for relocating the trees, while some have come forward to provide vehicles and some to bear the expenditure in uprooting and replanting the trees at a different location. A few are adopting the trees and volunteering to take care of entire process.

Uday Krishna, founder of Vata Foundation, said the number of trees identified for the first phase SRDP in KBR Park were 271. Along with the number of phases, the number of trees to be felled would also increase. “We, however, have no information on how many phases are there and how many trees will be chopped off. While nobody is against development, the ecological balance, which is the gift of the nature, should not be affected by it,” he said.

Several thousands of trees were felled indiscriminately during the laying of National Highway No. 7 and National Highway No. 9 and the Outer Ring Road. Though the government said that it would grow trees between pillars of Metro Rail, now it is clear that no tree can be raised between those pillars. Greenery in the 72 km stretch has been a casualty, said Krishna. “Where are they taking up alternate plantation is, however, not known. Though the authorities said they would plant 50,000 saplings a year, we don’t know where have they done that. For, the total number should have been at least two lakh by now.” But the green cover is gradually shrinking.

Krishna argues that the planning of any development project should start from considering how many trees need to be felled and how could they be protected.

Shilpa Sivakumaran of Hyderabad Rising, told Firstpost: “We want the government to plan the project without disturbing the ecological system. The KBR Park is just a small green patch. We don’t want anything to happen to that. Temperatures are soaring. Hyderabad is touching 45 or 46 degrees Celsius. We are buying water tankers. There is no water anywhere. Major water sources are dried up. And, we are playing with the natural habitat and ecosystem. Pollution and diseases are high. It is an offshoot of what we are doing.”

On how the like-minded people were brought together, Chilak said that a WhatsApp group was created and several like-minded people like Uday Krishna, Suresh of Vaada, Srinath and others got together. Slowly, the team size increased.

“We requested Hyderabad Trails to join hands with us. They have been very cordial and they have come forward to espouse the cause. Then we got on social media. We have all called on M G Gopal, Special Chief Secretary of Municipal Administration and Urban Development, and appealed for realignment of the SRDP to save trees,” said Chilak.

The government, however, was not ready to retract its stand. While the state was ready to allow the activists to relocate the trees, the green brigade is seeking time till the onset of monsoon so that translocation becomes possible.

Though the government is ready to provide semi-treated water, naturally the soil should be prepared and the trees also would “undergo a shock” when uprooted.

An Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore study revealed recently that the city’s green cover has plummeted from 2.16 percent to 1.68 percent and the built-up area is likely to move up from 13.5 percent as of now and is likely to shoot up to 64 percent.

Viveck Verma of the Society for Advancement of Human Endeavour said that the 'Save KBR Park' is now transforming into a movement and every citizen has the responsibility to protect the environment.

After a 1,000-member gathering at the KBR Park on Sunday morning, the Hyderabad Rising team said: “People were made aware that saving trees is not just a sustainable solution, but also their right which is protected by the various environmental laws. They were encouraged to question how and on what basis these were being violated. Many were surprised as they were not even aware of the gravity of the situation and the modus operandi to be adopted by the SRDP.” The members demanded the scrapping of SRDP.

The authorities are, however, keeping their fingers crossed. They do not want to budge and also they have no funds to rush through the implementation of the SRDP immediately.

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Updated Date: May 02, 2016 14:34:22 IST

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