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Urbanisation bid crowds out Bengaluru’s cherished trees

Bengaluru: The ashwath kattes , pipal trees (sacred fig is their common English name) with either a shrine under them or a large platform around them (or both) are a common sight in some parts of Bengaluru, and are usually a good indication that the neighbourhood was originally a village
By Arun Dev
PUBLISHED ON APR 04, 2021 12:17 AM IST

Bengaluru: The ashwath kattes , pipal trees (sacred fig is their common English name) with either a shrine under them or a large platform around them (or both) are a common sight in some parts of Bengaluru, and are usually a good indication that the neighbourhood was originally a village.

As Bengaluru expanded , it began adding villages within its limits. In her book ‘The Promise of the Metropolis’, author Janaki Nair writes that between 1901 and 1971 Bengaluru absorbed around 100 villages into the city structure and by 2020, the city added over 500 urban villages.

The katees are a link to the old.

Despite this expansion, the villages retained their old ways. One of them was

Trees, especially banyan and pipal, have been culturally important in the city’s culture often acting as a glue for a community. “The ashwath kattes are an epicentre of sacred and social gatherings. People have been passing on this tradition to generations, even though the city has been expanding rapidly around them,” said Kiran Keswani, the co-founder of ‘veryday City Lab and researcher on the katte culture.

The kattes are just a part of Bengaluru’s history with trees which dates backs to the inception of the city itself. AN Yellappa Reddy, a former forest official and environmentalist says Bengaluru’s founder Kempegowda encouraged his followers to build tanks and plant trees. “He introduced ‘udyana vanas’ (pleasure gardens) and ’pushpa vatikas’ (temple gardens) with trees from outside the city,” Reddy said.

According to him, in 1760, Hyder Ali, the father of Tipu Sultan, envisioned Lal Bagh on the line of the Mughal gardens. “He introduced trees from Delhi, Arcot, Multan and even Lahore to the city,” Reddy added.

This was continued by Tipu Sultan who added 30 more acres of greenery to the city and added to the variety with plants from Kabul, then Persia, and Mauritius. Gustav Krumbiegel, who took over as the botanist for Lal Bagh, introduced more exotic plants from Africa, Burma, Australia, Singapore, Russia and America.

According to the horticulture department, today Lal Bagh has one of the largest varieties of trees in the world.Two mango trees planted by Tipu Sultan are still part of the city’s collection.

But the expansion of the city has come at the cost of some old trees. A committee set up by the Karnataka High Court, on March 2, said that as many as 100 heritage trees can be saved if the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Ltd (KRDCL) makes minor changes in the alignment of four road widening projects proposed in areas surrounding Bengaluru.

This was one of many projects where a large number of trees were facing the axe in the city. A 607-page report submitted by an expert committee constituted by the High Court said that a majority of these trees are at least 50 years old and as tall as a two-storied building.

In this case, the number of trees recommended for transplantation is 1,737. The report adds that while the forest department has approved the felling of 5,297 trees, the committee has found it necessary to cut only 1,721.

Vijay Nishant, an environmentalist, who is also known as the tree doctor, said that during his surveys he found that recent development work has changed the ecosystem in the city. “We were used to trees blooming throughout the year in the 1990s but now, it has changed drastically because of tree cutting. We are conducting a survey to record what trees Bengaluru has lost over the years to make a case for cutting fewer trees.”

According to Harini Nagendra, a Bengaluru based environmentalist and columnist for Hindustan Times, Bengaluru’s older trees had a diverse distribution with several large-sized species. “However, the newer trees in the city are less diverse. They are mostly small-statured with narrow canopies.”

She added that the lack of variety has serious implications for the city’s ecology. “There is a need to protect large street trees on wide roads from tree felling, and to select an appropriate and diverse mix of large and small-sized species for new planting.”

Meanwhile, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, the city’s civic body) in its budget has earmarked 214 crore in comparison to last year’s 84 crore for the maintenance of around 1,200 parks in Bengaluru. Another 39 crore has been allocated to the forest department and there are plans to plant a million saplings this year.

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