patrol beat

Browning of Bangalore - by Asha Rai, TNN

Much before Bangalore became the IT capital of the country, it was the garden city; home to two of the most beautiful gardens in the country: Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh. Bangalore was also the city, where you wore mufflers and woolens in the winter. Where an A/C was for the nouveau riche.

Today, the dramatic change in the urban landscape of the city has resulted in an even more dramatic change in the environment. The Bangalore Patrol survey which measured two indicators under environment: air pollution and the green cover of the city, reveals the true extent of deterioration.

The city has some good green pockets. Aramane Nagara and Sampangiram Nagar are the joint environmental leaders in the city with a score of 8.35. Of the city 198 wards, 50% have scores between 5 & 9. But the story at the bottom is of great concern. Fourteen wards score a mere 3.35.

Air pollution in the city has risen dramatically, which should surprise nobody. Actually, one doesn’t need hard data to verify it. Just breathe the air around you to know how bad the situation is. The score for all the wards is 6.69. That’s because due to technical reasons ward level monitoring of air pollution couldn’t be done. The Central Pollution Control Board has only six stations in the city. The data from one station cannot be used for wards around it because air moves constantly. At best it can be said that at a particular location the air pollution is so much. Hence, Janaagraha – which collected and interpreted the data -- did an average of all the six stations and came up with the ward score of 6.69.

Equally alarming is the state of Bangalore’s green cover. The green cover score has been calculated using the presence of tree canopy from the base map of the city. It refers to tree cover, i.e, canopies only.14 wards of the city have scored a zero as they have no green cover at all. There are just two wards which score a perfect ten on this indicator: Aramane Nagara and Sampangiram Nagar. Areas adjoining the large, green tracts of Bangalore Palace like Jayamahal, and Malleswaram also score high on this indicator with a score of nine out of ten. Vasanth Nagar is saved by the golf course in its jurisdiction while Santala Nagar (home to the CBD areas like MG Road and vicinity) obviously has Cubbon Park and the huge army cantonment around it to thank for its decent score (8) for green cover. The ward named after the city’s founder, Kempe Gowda and others like Jakkur, Begur, and Gottigere score a zero on this parameter.

That in `environment’ there’s no ward that has a perfect score points to the unhappy state of affairs in Bangalore. The air pollution has risen dramatically because while the number of vehicles on the roads has gone up multi-fold, the green cover of the city has dwindled around the same time. The soaring glass and steel towers that dot the city now are also eco-unfriendly as they use artificial light and air-conditioning throughout the day.

The newer parts of Bangalore – the outlying villages that have been added to the city – grew without much thought to planning. They rarely have neighbourhood parks or gardens. That’s one reason why, while Kempegowda wards scores zero for green cover.

It doesn’t help that in the name of street widening; the city has lost thousands of trees. While authorities tell you that multiples of the trees felled are being planted around the city, one is yet to see them in significant numbers. Urban planners in Bangalore need to look for transport solutions which involve something more fundamental than just chopping trees.

It is also a matter of great concern that the huge existing lung spaces in the city are under threat. The two biggest carbon sinks of Bangalore – Cubbon Park and Lalbagh – are diminishing in size for reasons ranging from Metro work to Vikas Soudha. The next target seems to be the Bangalore Turf Club’s previous acres on Race Course road. The government has cancelled the lease of the club and is forcing it to move out. The issue is what happens to the land then? The government has promised that most of it will be converted into a park. The question is `what is the definition of most?’ Even if parts of it are used for commercial purposes – a 100 storey building is being bandied about -- then the environmental degradation it would cause to the heart of Bangalore is unimaginable.

Getting more people to use public transport would help in reducing the sound pollution. Hopefully, with the metro expected to be up and running by early Jan, the number of cars and bikes on the road will fall. In recent months, there’s a noticeable up tick in the number of people opting to use buses. The introduction of comfortable, air-conditioned buses has given commuting public a viable alternate to using private cars, autos and two wheelers. Car pooling, cycling would also help ameliorate the city’s rapidly degrading environment.

Sidelights:

AIR POLLUTION : Why no ward level scores

Bangalore Patrol surveyors approached the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and asked if their mobile monitoring vans could be used to monitor pollution at various spots in the city. Citing man power and resource issues -- as they would have to station the vehicle for 24 hours in one spot etc – they declined. Isn’t the entire purpose of providing the KSPCB with a mobile monitoring van is to be able to station it at various spots in the city to constantly monitor air quality? How fabulous it would be if the KSPCB used their air pollution monitoring vehicles to generate ward level score by stationing it at a particular spot for 2 days each.

Local parks:

There are 23 wards in Bangalore that have a park within walking distance from any point in the ward. Parks act as carbon sinks and clean up the environment around them. In contrast, there are 14 wards of Bangalore that have no green cover or tree canopies at all.

Header:

Today’s topic is environment. Bangalore’s weather is still the envy of neighbours. But the fact is, it isn’t what it was even a decade ago. Rapid growth of the city has taken its toll on the environment as not many checks and balances were put in place to protect the environment when the city exploded vertically and horizontally.

For table:

To arrive at the environment score, Bangalore Patrol has measured two indicators: air pollution and the percentage of green cover in the city. Ward wise air pollution scores proved elusive due to red-tape.