More saplings promised in the Budget, but existing greenery in Bengaluru faces grave threat

From advertisement posters, nails and wires, Bengaluru’s trees endure much harm

Updated - February 24, 2023 05:01 pm IST

Published - February 23, 2023 11:45 pm IST - Bengaluru

A vendor using a tree to hang of the items for sale in Bengaluru.

A vendor using a tree to hang of the items for sale in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

As long-time residents rue Bengaluru’s fast-fading ‘garden city’ tag, trees in the city endure more than just the danger of facing the axe for development projects.

From becoming free platforms for advertisements to structures around which wires can be tied and a place for vendors to hang their wares, Bengaluru’s trees are under threat.

The irony becomes clear as Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, in his recent Budget speech, announced that the government planted 10 lakh saplings every year up to 2022-23 and that this would be from 2023-24 increased to 15 lakhs.

Residents and environmentalists say planting more saplings is useless when existing ones get little protection and nourishment.

Roadside saplings not maintained

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Forest Cell is supposed to maintain and replenish the city’s depleting green cover. However, last year its sapling plantation drive was mired in red tape. They are usually planted before the onset of the monsoon in April and May. But, BBMP has not provided any data on the number of saplings planted.

“The civic body lacks the human resources to monitor trees or oversee the city-wide tree warden programme. So, the best way is to outsource maintenance for three years to those who plant them,” said a BBMP official from the Forest Cell.

Cables wound around trees in Bengaluru.

Cables wound around trees in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

BBMP Green app scrapped

In 2017, the civic body set up a bank to distribute saplings to citizens free of charge and launched the BBMP Green app.

The bank had 10 lakh saplings at that time, and six lakhs were given away through the app, say BBMP officials. But the civic body has no details about where they were planted or how many survived. But, anecdotal evidence suggests that they were planted on farms outside the city, defeating the initiative’s objective.

With the citizens’ response to the programme waning, the BBMP disbanded the app.

Free platform for ads

As for existing trees, many people hammer nails into them to display posters and advertisements free of cost. In 2020, the BBMP launched an initiative, ‘Nails Free Trees’, and warned offenders of criminal action. People were also told not to tie cables and wires on trees. But the practice continues.

City-based environmentalist Vijay Nishanth says, “We have been conducting campaigns against using trees for advertisements. A programme called ‘Kill Bill’ was launched, and harmful iron nails and staples were removed from trees. There was an impact. But the BBMP should have strict laws to reduce incidents of tree damage.”

He says the volunteers also sprayed organic neem disinfectant after removing the nails to prevent infection. “Usually, the nails will be pierced deep into the trunks, which will rust eventually. This will affect the growth of these trees. Residents must come together and prevent this menace, and the civic authorities must also penalise the offenders,” he says.

Prasanth Naik, a resident of Vijayanagar, says advertisers find it convenient to put up boards on trees. “We have been creating awareness against this practice. After removing the nails, we apply a paste of turmeric and neem oil on the affected portion of the trunk,” he said.

A senior official of the Forest Department said nails and wires hinder the growth of the trees. “The free flow of nutrients is blocked since nails are drilled into the cambium tissue in the trunk. This affects the growth and lifespan of trees,” the official explained. Besides the damage, the act can also attract penalties.

Synthetic grass mat kept below a tree at Padmanabha nagar in Bengaluru.

Synthetic grass mat kept below a tree at Padmanabha nagar in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

Menace of concretisation

Kavya Nagesh, a resident of Bommanahalli, said, “Many shopkeepers create concrete platforms for their customers to sit around trees, thus damaging the roots. We don’t know whom to complain about this.”

Krishna Kumar, a Hennur Residents Welfare Association member, said the practice of nailing posters and advertisements continues despite the government banning it. Trees offer shade to the public, and the BBMP should protect them by taking action against the violators,” he said.

Namitha Shekhar, a resident and member of Bellandur Jothege, a residents’ welfare association, said, “Most of the roadside trees in Bellandur are used by vendors to hang their wares. We have often told them not to use trees, but they are not ready to listen.”

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