Bangalore: The Karnataka government and Bangaloreans are on collision course, being on opposite sides of the development versus conservation debate.
While the government is fighting off the UNESCO tag for 10 sites in the ecologically delicate Western Ghats, people in the IT hub are battling to save trees from being chopped to widen roads.
The government is opposing the UNESCO tag fearing the areas will go out of its control and "no development is possible around these sites".
The Bangaloreans have been trying, unsuccessfully, to prevent hundreds of trees, many of them centuries old, from being felled in the name of development.
On July 1, 19 trees were chopped down to widen the Sankey Road in an upscale area in north Bangalore. Residents of the area - from elderly to school students - hugged the trees, squatted on the road, held candle light demonstrations, and petitioned the civic authorities, but to no avail.
Similarly, hundreds of trees have made way for road widening and the metro rail project.
Environmental groups claim that Bangalore has lost more than 50,000 trees in the last five years. Civic authorities contest the figure and say only about 10,000 have been felled.
And development is the reason why the state government is against a UNESCO tag for the 10 sites that include the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Talacauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, Kudremukh National Park and Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary.
The 10 sites are among the 39 chosen for the World Heritage tag by the central government in consultation with the states concerned. The others are in Kerala (19 sites), Tamil Nadu (six) and Maharashtra (four).
The Western Ghats are a 1,600-km-long mountain range spread over a 140,000-sq km area in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. About 60 percent of the Ghats is in Karnataka.
The Western Ghats are home to rare plants and various birds and animal species but are "threatened by a number of developmental activities such as roads, railways, dams, etc," says an experts group set up by the central environment ministry.
But Karnataka Forest and Ecology Minister C.H. Vijayashankar is not impressed and has dismissed the UNESCO tag as of "no benefit to the state".
"The international organisation will not provide financial, technical and legal aid in protecting the state forest areas," he said mid-June ahead of the Unesco meeting in Paris to consider sites across the world for the heritage tag.
"We cannot blindly seek a tag from other agencies just to get recognition at the global level," he said.
Karnataka`s stand has central Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh bristling.
He said in a letter to the Karnataka government that it was fully in the picture when the sites were identified and submitted to UNESCO but was raising objections now, the only state to do so.
Terming Karnataka`s stand as "needlessly alarmist", Ramesh said it could lead to "international embarrassment" for India.
However, the Karnataka minister is unrelenting. "Why should we allow someone else to control us?`` Vijayashankar retorted in response to Ramesh.
He and the state government have got a sort of reprieve as Unesco has put off till next year a decision on the Western Ghats.
But there is no such relief for Bangalore`s trees as the main city roads see bumper-to-bumper traffic most of the time during the day.
With nearly four million vehicles for a population of eight million - that is almost one vehicle for every two residents - the tech hub may be fighting a losing battle to save its tree cover.