Saplings wither even as Rs. 100-crore project balloons to Rs. 140 crore

The ambitious Rs. 100-crore tree-planting project initiated by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), which has come under criticism for the destruction of a vast natural grassland, has just got more expensive.

The cost of the project has been pumped up by 40 per cent to Rs. 140 crore even as a significant proportion of newly planted saplings wither. Around a fifth of the 4 lakh saplings planted in Hessarghatta have perished, according to naturalists and photographers who frequent the grassland.

BDA has thus far planted 10 lakh saplings in and around Bangalore's green belt (the majority in Hessarghatta) in the first phase of its Green Garland project, which aims to reach a target of one crore saplings in the next three years.

Environmentalists who alleged that the tree planting drive has destroyed one of Bangalore's last surviving grasslands in Hessarghatta — habitat notably for migratory birds of prey — observe that the project has been done unscientifically and at an unnecessarily high cost.

“The trees are planted barely eight feet apart, so the survival rate is likely to be poor. Not even in a natural forest do trees grow so close,” said Mahesh Bhat, a photographer who lives in Hessarghatta. The choice of saplings over seeds and deploying earthmovers only adds to the cost of the exercise, he added.

Plastic litter

The once pristine grassland is now littered with plastic bags (in which the plants were brought) and ravaged by the earthmovers that were used to dig thousands of pits, he said.

Mr. Bhat said that he noticed nearly 20 per cent of the saplings — primarily cherry and mahogany — had withered in some parts. “The rainfall has not been consistent in Hessarghatta. Does this mean BDA is now going to bring water tankers from outside?” he asked. “That would only add to the cost and damage the fragile ecosystem.”

It is a shame that BDA should select possibly the last remaining grassland to go on a tree planting overdrive, said Ramki Sreenivasan, a wildlife photographer. It has been disastrous for the ecosystem that supports wintering raptors, including harriers, tawny eagles and short-eared owls, he added.

BDA explanation

A BDA official told The Hindu the cost of the project had to be hiked from Rs. 100 per sapling to Rs. 140 because the contractors “had to ensure 100 per cent survival” of the plants.

“The work includes digging, planting, weeding and replacing the plants that perish,” said the official who didn't want to be named.

The tree planting in Hessarghatta included planting 60,000 in the Kanteerava Film Studio land that has some 350 acres of grasslands; 2,60,000 saplings around Hessarghatta lake; and 1,87,500 in the Dairy Farm. The project intends to “cover all the open spaces belonging to Government, valleys, canal sides, lake shore [and] … Government premises and private institutions.”