An effort to go green

Telangana government’s green initiatives help create awareness about the environment

Updated - February 20, 2023 01:07 am IST

Published - February 20, 2023 12:25 am IST

The Miyawaki forest in Shamshabad. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Miyawaki forest in Shamshabad. Photo: Special Arrangement

Can urban growth and expansion of green cover take place at the same time? Can new roads be laid in old neighbourhoods without uprooting avenue trees and roadside gardens?

Plenty of examples can be cited from the country to argue that this is improbable. However, the Telangana government claims it is not. Over the past two years, Hyderabad, which has emerged as a powerhouse of infrastructure growth in Telangana, has won multiple awards for being a green city with an improving forest cover. Speaking on the floor of the Assembly last Monday while presenting the annual Budget, Finance Minister T. Harish Rao listed these awards and achievements.

The State government has provided impressive numbers of tree plantations to show the state of the forest. An afforestation programme called Telangana Ku Haritha Hāram (the green garland of Telangana) is the key green initiative of the Telangana government. With a funding of ₹10,417 crore over nine years, the programme has covered a vast area of land with trees and plants. The State government allocated ₹1,471 crore to the Forest Department and Haritha Haaram in 2023-24, and ₹198 crore for compensatory afforestation. According to Mr. Rao’s budgetary speech last year, the government has replanted 9.65 lakh acres and developed 109 urban forests. This year, 13 lakh acres of forest have been “rejuvenated” with a funding of ₹1,500 crore, he said.

However, environmental advocates are puzzled by the numbers. They say they have seen the steady loss of tree cover. Further, reports regularly cite instances of fully grown trees being cut down for construction. More than 20 full grown trees were axed on the VST-Indira Park stretch to make way for the elevated corridor as part of the Strategic Road Development Plan project in 2022. Over the past few months, the pruning, cutting and translocation of trees for the Hyderabad E-Prix has also illustrated the conflict between green initiatives and so-called development. Citizens are campaigning to save nearly 900 banyan trees that are about 100 years old each, on the road to Chevella on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

Questions have also been raised about the awards. It is the administrators who nominate the city for the Arbor Day Foundation’s ‘Tree City of the World’ award by providing a certification from the Mayor on the number of trees. There is no external auditing to establish the truthfulness of the information. When the Mayor was asked about the certification, she did not respond.

Similarly, in a competition involving cities such as Paris, Bogota, Montreal, and Mexico City, Hyderabad emerged the winner and was named ‘World Green City’ by the International Association of Horticulture Producers (IAHP). The IAHP is a 75-year-old global organisation. Its members include traders of flowers and ornamental plants. The IAHP also gave Hyderabad the award in the ‘Living Green for Economic Recovery and Inclusive Growth’ category. The awards were given based on statistics filed by city officials and a field visit to locations with avenue plantations, including the 158-km Outer Ring Road that girdles the city.

Nevertheless, while the green initiatives have gained recognition, the State faces the challenge of encroachments into forest lands by the indigenous people. The right for permanent settlement in areas that were once considered forest has been a divisive issue and could impact voting patterns. Of the 119 constituencies in the State Legislature, nine are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. According to the 2011 Census, STs form 9.3% of the State’s population. Recently, a forest official was killed while trying to mark boundaries in the forest. Speaking on the floor of the Assembly, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao promised distribution of ‘pattas’ (documents of ownership of land) to STs. He added a caveat. The land distribution, he said, is among the last efforts to regularise ownership of land and more encroachments into forests will not be allowed.

Will this dual approach of protecting forests and doing plantation drives pay dividends? It is too early to say. But it is clear that the Telangana government, with its initiatives, has its eyes set on becoming a ‘green State’. While the counting of trees planted in a park may not be a barometer of change, it is a step in the right direction. It creates awareness about the environment, which was sorely missing until a few years ago.

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