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Stifling heat in waiting

By DN Singh | Last Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 - 20:31
DN Singh
Orissa Diary

There is so much about trees, which we often tend to ignore. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we rarely find time to stand and admire their beauty. Trees themselves are fast becoming a rare sight. Imagine a time when Bhubaneswar, once a lush green hilly town, turns into an eyesore devoid of all greenery.

That day is not far, given the pace at which the so-called modernisers' axe has started falling on trees which have stood for centuries.

Yes, this is exactly what the blue-eyed mandarins of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s govt are doing. Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, the ' twin cities ' have earned the distinction of being the new beds of modern Orissa where people experience nine month long summer. Even during the winters you hardly need a sweater to keep yourself warm.

In the face of an ineffective opposition, recently over 100 full-grown trees, many of them more than a century old, were razed to earth for the ongoing widening of a road from Bhubaneswar to the holy city Puri. The sorry spectacle it now presents did not have any impact on the political community. That was expected, what was not is that not a hair wilted among the so called nature activists or the NGOs either.

In the full view of a helpless public the trees were axed. A few voices of protest from the locals were simply lost in the din of the traffick. Look at the timing ! This happened just before the severe summer sets in.

A few years back, over one thousand trees were felled for the four-laning of the Highway between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Later, a few thousand more trees, flanking the highway stretching upto Balasore, were sacrificed. But not a single tree has been planted since, regardless of the claim by the Highway authorities that they have planted more than five thousand plants.

Where are they?

An aerial view of capital city, Bhubaneswar, in fact, reveals the real picture. Barring two per cent of the city, the rest of the areas are without green cover. While the burgeoning concrete structures have covered most of the area . This is the grim reality that the city municipality and the urban development authorities refuse to realise. On top of this, in a few areas within the city, the kerbs holding the trees have been made concrete.

“What a lack common sense, this will bring the city's water absorbing capacity down to zero " rued Biswajit Mohanty, an environmental activist.

One does not know whether the people in power know, that 400 million years ago, long before the Dinosaurs, trees and forests covered the earth. These primitive
plants were responsible for converting the poisonous atmosphere of early Earth into the oxygen-rich, life-supporting atmosphere of today.

Thousands of nesting sites have been destroyed. Even non-breeding birds have lost their perching berths. Once the birds gone, there is bound to be an imbalance in the insect population.
An elderly citizen on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar has this story to tell, “When I had the trees around our colony I was getting an energy bill of around Rs.180 p/m. Now that the trees have been razed, the bill has shot up to Rs.225 p/m as the air conditioner needs an additional hour of pre-start period to get going.” This anecdote speaks abundantly about the loss we incur by axing even one tree.

This, sort of common sense passes over the heads of the city mandarins.

A few days back, a leading English Daily carried a flaccid item in its front page on the felling of the trees, but the author appeared lacking in the basics of composing such an article.
The article said near the end that the city municipality officials have given assurances that soon compensatory plantations will be done in the city.

The question that these officials have to answer is whether the value of , say, a century old 70 metre high tree weighing nothing less than 600 tonnes, be substituted by planting some odd species somewhere else? Never.

It is not to say that, there should not be a widening of roads or the pace of urbanization should be slowed, but in many cases there is the need for striking a balance between modernization and nature preservation through exploring alternatives.

Knowing well that the so called highway linking Bhubaneswar with Puri suffers from enormous bottlenecks because of interposing villages and extremely narrow bazars all through the route, the only way-out to avert the traffick congestion is a bye-pass from Bhubaneswar to Puri. Why then this ravage inside the city which would help the regulation in no way at all.

In the last one decade more than five thousand trees have been cut down in and around the capital. Now even in the outskirts there is no room for any fresh plantation. Municipality is simply bluffing when it talks of restoring the balance through fresh plantations.

The outcome of such a policy is predictable and anticipated. We were not able to enjoy the heaving excitement of autumn but will surely experience the stifling heat of the summer.

First Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 - 20:31

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