Cutting trees for building roads and buildings is not sustainable
City planners should keep the pedestrians, not cars, at the centre of road infrastructure.
Recently, it was announced that GMDA will cut 1,500 trees to widen four roads in Palam Vihar and Udyog Vihar. This decision, along with the Haryana government’s amendments to the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), is a disturbing trend. Nearly 25,000 trees have been felled in the past five years. Besides, another 10,000 trees may be cut for road construction on Sohna Road.
The amendment to the PLPA, which was passed by the Haryana cabinet, will remove legal protection for nearly 60,000 acres of ecologically sensitive land in the state, thereby making it available for real estate development. By removing the legal protection, much of the green cover of Gurugram will be under threat by construction activity. This step is extremely short-sighted as it will deplete the green cover of the city, which is already very low at 4%.
Last year, there was a controversy over cutting 600 trees from the green belt of the Haryana Urban Development Authority areas. More than 200 trees were cut for the Golf Course Road, which runs through the city. Some of these were old and large trees. Today, the road has no trees at all. The diminishing green cover in the city has many implications — including increased pollution and lack of protection from heat as well as water scarcity — for the residents.
We have seen several protests by Gurugram residents over the past year over deforestation. A few months ago, there was a plan to build a six-lane road through the Aravali Biodiversity Park, which faced protests from residents as well as environmental experts.
The question we need to ask is who we are building streets for. Unfortunately, the entire focus of city administration bodies is to make wider streets that move cars faster from place to place. The vision behind the Golf Course Road was to be able to reach DLF Phase 5 in seven minutes from Shanker Chowk. Car ownership in the country is less than 50 per 1000 people. We need to have a vision for streets that is beyond just the movement of cars.
Streets first and foremost should be about people. In this county, the majority of people still either walk, cycle or use public transport and, therefore, their relationship with the streets is different than someone who only uses a car. Streets are spaces of commerce and activity. Our streets are full of shops and street vendors albeit often a bit chaotic. Streets are also spaces for socialising and can even be spaces for entertainment and culture. Street art has often been used to highlight issues. Streets also have their own identities. They are living spaces and should be planned and designed keeping in mind all these factors. For example, many streets only lights along the central median and not on the footpaths. Clearly, this planning was done only for lighting up the road and not the pavements.
As India becomes more urban and more people move to cities, we need to have a vision that is sustainable and holistic. While it is essential to build and develop roads, but if the pedestrian is given centrality then we will not end up cutting so many trees and removing the green cover of our cities.
(Co-founder and CEO of Safetipin, the author works on issues of women safety and rights in cities)