Gurugram must treat its parks, forests as green infrastructure

Studies have attributed monetary value to services trees provide, such as health benefits, temperature control, carbon absorption, among others. It’s time we started treating forests as engines of growth.
Students from Gurugram schools protest against the proposed six-lane highway through Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park.(Yogendra Kumar/HT File)
Students from Gurugram schools protest against the proposed six-lane highway through Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park.(Yogendra Kumar/HT File)
Updated on Feb 20, 2019 03:19 PM IST
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A couple of months ago, citizens were protesting the government’s decision to build a six-lane expressway through Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park. The expressway was promoted as the solution to vehicular congestion between Delhi and Gurugram. Only God knows, how a road that can transport equivalent of 6,000 cars per hour solve the congestion between the two cities! Anyways, looking at the resistance from citizens, the administration decided to put the proposal on the back burner, at least for now. However, the respite was short lived for the Aravallis as it was reported in the media that the Haryana government has decided to amend the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA).

This will have a serious repercussion. Why? Well, because parts of the Aravallis range, especially those surrounding the National Capital Region (NCR) will be excluded from the Natural Conservation Zone (NCZ). The NCZ is an ecologically sensitive area demarcated for conservation only. Therefore, real estate projects which were earlier denied, will be allowed now.

So, why are we treating our forest and landscape in this manner, especially those around the cities? Let me highlight three things that we tend to ignore about forests around our cities.

The economic opportunity

We all know that trees and forests provide immense benefits to our cities and its inhabitants. But is there a real economic case for trees and forest in our cities? Yes, if we go by some of the research done it this field. Professor TM Das from the University of Calcutta published an interesting study, way back in 1979. He found that the value of timber, fruit or biomass that we usually associate with tree is only 0.3% of the real value of the tree. The real value of a tree is far more.

For instance, if one values the carbon dioxide that the tree absorbs, of the oxygen it produces or the soil erosion that it prevents of even the shade it provides, then what will be the value of a tree? Therefore, taking six different parameters and assigning a monetary value to each of the parameters, it was found that the total value of a 50-year-old tree is in excess of Rs 15 lakh.]

Read | Haryana forest department recommends putting all of Gurugram Aravallis in conservation zone

The health benefits

Cities are often linked to cramped spaces, be it home, work or even school. This is applicable to majority of the population. This often results in lack of personal spaces, which has an adverse impact on mental health, resulting in stress and fatigue. Traffic noise, safety and security issues further aggravate the situation.

Studies have shown that mental health issues such as mood swings, anxiety, schizophrenia etc. have gone up by more than 50% in urban areas than rural areas. Therefore, to address these issues, some of the progressive cities around the world are now looking at building parks, forests and green spaces around them.

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which is nothing but spending time with nature has been a common practise in Japan’s Tokyo in the last four decades. And studies have shown that it helps reduce stress levels and thus, blood pressure.

Fighting climate change

Forests and parks also help in addressing the issue of climate change. On the one side, they help in mitigating the impacts of climate change. On the other, they help in reducing the quantum of greenhouse gases by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees also help in reducing the heat island effect in cities by providing the much-needed shade. While exact temperature reduction may be difficult to predict, but studies have shown that a city that has large parks or urban forests sees a daytime temperature reduction by almost 5°C, compared to cities that don’t have such areas.

They also help in recharging ground water and this is critical to cities like Gurugram, which is already staring at rapid groundwater depletion.

It is not only that cities benefit from urban forests, in fact the forest also derives a huge benefit from its proximity to urban area(s). This is because cities are places where people live and work. They are the engines of economic growth. Therefore, in order to keep this engine moving, cities are realising the importance of restoration, conservation and management of forests. In fact, many progressive cities treat forests and parks as green infrastructure, similar to any traditional infrastructure projects.

The road though the bio diversity park would have taken 22 hectares of forest area. This would have resulted on loss of around 22,000 trees. Taking Prof Das’s value of Rs 15 lakh per tree, the loss would be a staggering 3.3 lakh crore. This cost would be much higher if the PLPA is amended. Therefore, it’s time to consider trees and forests as green infrastructure and plan for them as well.

(Amit Bhatt is the director- integrated transport, WRI India)

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Sunday, November 28, 2021