A rapid environmental assessment to assess the impact of the proposed widening of peripheral roads around Bengaluru has revealed that the planned stretches pass through crucial biodiversity habitats impacting endangered species of animals, apart from negative impact on the city and citizens on the whole.

The assessment ‘Environmental and ecological impact of tree-felling and road widening of Bengaluru’s surrounding roads’ was conducted by Seema Mundoli, Ranjini Murali and Harini Nagendra from Azim Premji University between February 29 and March 6. It reveals that the the stretches pass through the Junnasandra Mini Forest, the Anekal Reserve Forest contiguous with the Bannerghatta National Park, as well as scrub-land and agricultural fields.

Disturbance of these stretches can negatively impact fauna, including the endangered slender loris, accorded protection under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972; palm civet, the Indian hare and the Indian jackal, say the authors.

Loss of heritage trees

As many as 8,561 trees are estimated to be cut over a total distance of 152.03 km for projects of the Karnataka Road Development Corporation (KRDCL), which proposes widening of roads from two-lane to four-lane, and four-lane to six-lane on six stretches. However, the assessment estimates that the total number of trees that will be felled is likely to be much higher than 8,561.

“We found a systematic pattern of mismatch with tree numbers on our surveyed stretches being higher than those in reports. In addition, several trees were unmarked but also likely to be cut during the road widening. There are several massive heritage trees on these stretches, the loss of which will be irreplaceable. We recorded two massive banyan trees with a girth of 14.9 m and 17.7 m, an impressive 50-feet-tall banyan tree, on the road from Nelamangala to Madure. Other large heritage tree species that will be lost include peepul, Mysore fig, raintree, neem, teak, tamarind, and jamun,” the study states.

They also recorded 15 sacred ashwathkattes – raised platforms with neem and peepal trees and snake shrines at their base that have immense religious and social significance for local residents – marked for removal.

Impact on lakes

Along the six stretches of roads that were sampled, the researchers recorded 14 lakes. This includes Varthur, the second largest lake in Bengaluru, and Madure kere, which extends over 568 acres.

The projects will also severely affect groundwater recharge, flood control and biodiversity in these lakes. “The resulting environmental deterioration will impact the livelihoods of local grazers and fishers who use these lakes.” the study adds.

Irreversible loss

The researchers argue that no kind of planting or transplanting can replace the loss of these huge trees that provide an invaluable ecological service.

“Young saplings will take decades to grow, and also take a lot of time before they can provide the benefits that full-grown trees can in terms of reducing pollution, supporting biodiversity or mitigating heat stress. Further, the species that are replanted are much lesser in diversity, often non-native, and fast growing that offer little shade,” the researchers concluded.

KRDCL denies allegations

Pointing out that urban trees provide essential functions, such as micro-climate regulation, carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, soil stabilisation, and prevention of groundwater run-off, the study alleges that an official environmental impact assessment is yet to be conducted even though work on road widening has begun and trees have already been felled.

KRDCL has denied these allegations. KRDCL MD H.S. Prakash Kumar told The Hindu that the corporation had started work only after an environmental assessment and nod from the Forest Department. “We are only felling what the Forest Department has given permission for. Work has begun on some roads. The department has asked us to translocate some trees. We are attempting to save as many trees as possible,” he said.

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