Faultline Society

A less concrete solution?

A protest against the felling of trees in KBR Park in Hyderabad.

A protest against the felling of trees in KBR Park in Hyderabad.  

Hyderabad’s oasis of green is up against a multi-crore road development plan

Bang in the middle of rapidly growing Hyderabad is a patch of forest that was earlier a part of the Nizam’s estate and is now a ‘protected area’ under the India’s Wildlife Protection Act. Spread over 145 hectares, the Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (KBR) National Park is home to hundreds of species of trees, birds and plants, 20 species of reptiles, an equal number of mammal species, 15 species of butterflies, and a variety of invertebrates; it is a green lung for the city. It is also hugely popular with residents as a space for exercise, recreation and to connect with ‘nature’.

But all’s not well in this little oasis. At the heart of the challenge is the growing traffic, the air pollution .

The Telangana government’s multi-crore Strategic Road Development Plan (SRDP) offers a concrete and construction-led solution—2,000 km of five skyways, 11 major corridors, 60 important roads and 50 grid separators. And the razing of hundreds of trees, particularly in KBR’s buffer area, for the ‘de-congestion of roads’ and ‘reduction of air pollution’. A large part of the citizenry has bought into this thinking, but the inherent irony and contradiction has not been lost on everyone. A number of citizens and civil society groups have raised critical questions.

Nearly 300 citizens gathered at the entrance of the park on World Environment Day earlier this month to register their protest. ‘Axe the plan, not the trees’ said one banner. Questions were asked about the corruption that a huge construction project like this could facilitate, on the inappropriateness of this response to the traffic problems of a city, the impact on the already woefully inadequate tree cover of Hyderabad, and of the various bureaucratic and legal manipulations engineered to get the necessary permissions.

The people wake up

The problems are, of course, multi-layered and multi-dimensional, but the issue of urban mobility has proven to be key. It is something that repeatedly rears it’s head across urban India. Bengaluru, for instance, successfully staved off the steel flyover project because of the huge number of trees that would have to be axed; citizens in Pune recently got together to save several 100-year-old ‘heritage’ trees marked for felling for a road expansion project, and protests are currently on in Mumbai where a large parcel of forest land and thousands of trees are to be cleared for a metro rail project.

Whether these citizen protests will be successful or not is difficult to say, but their simultaneous occurrence seems to say something about the status of urban visioning in the country today. Urban planners, scholars, researchers and activists have pointed out that transportation systems should cater to moving people, not vehicles. Yet, we see the exact opposite happening here.

Hyderabad’s extensive and ambitious metro is scheduled to kick off soon. Why this hurry with the SRDP, then?

The city, its streets and roads are being re-configured for the personal automobile. Everything else is being marginalised—the bus that caters to the poorest, the bicycle that occupies minimal road-space, and the footpath for the pedestrian.

It’s a different story in large parts of the world, though. Writing in The Guardian, for instance, this is what Klaus Bondam, Chief Executive of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation, had to say of the Danish experience: “Our cycling has created a form of mobility that helps improve public health, and reduce CO2 emissions, noise and air pollution. It contributes to a better and more liveable urban environment, where people meet and see each other in the streets instead of through car windows. And, of course, bicycles take up much less space than cars.”

‘Smart City’ is the mantra of the day in India and just about anything is being pushed under the banner. But how smart is a vision that has no place for trees, pedestrians, cyles or buses?

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 7:30:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-less-concrete-solution/article19135024.ece

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