Smart city works in Cubbon Park are in jeopardy after claims authorities are damaging the ecology of Bengaluru’s main lung space.
Hikers and regular visitors say Bengaluru Smart City Limited (BenSCL) has ignored the fundamental characteristics, topography and ecology of the various sites of Cubbon Park where development work is underway. BenSCL denies the allegations, calling them “unnecessary distractions”.
Portions of the 300-acre Cubbon Park are being revamped and given new attractions as part of a Smart Cities Mission project that began two years ago. The project was carried out in two phases, each costing Rs 17 crore. As swales (stormwater channels), ponds and paths and bridges are renewed, new themed gardens, nature and cultural trails, smog towers and recreation spots are also being created.
The annoyance of environmentalists is that the work is not holistic. “Cubbon Park is an important lung area and has a history of its own,” says noted environmentalist Suresh Heblikar. “It is the natural wetlands, ponds, embankments, depressions (sinks), bamboo, grass, shrubs and other trees that make Cubbon Park what it is. Any interference there will upset the biodiversity and ecological balance of the park,” he explained, saying they should remain undisturbed.
One expert pointed out that BenSCL had neither understood the park’s topography nor prepared a hydrology report before work began. “A hydrology report tells you about water flow, the amount of water available, drainage, and other aspects related to water,” said Dr. Inayathulla M, Director of the Water Institute at University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE). “Given the ecological sensitivity of Cubbon Park, it is important to plan work based on this report.”
BenSCL insists the report was never part of the project. “Neither we nor the Horticulture Department experts saw the need for a hydrology report because we weren’t making massive changes,” said a senior official.
However, regular visitors say the wetlands will “certainly be disturbed.” Sunitha Kumar, a member of the Cubbon Park Walkers’ Association, provides an example. Contrary to the earlier plan to build bridges on wetlands, dam structures are being built there. “This will disrupt the wetlands that help maintain water tables,” Kumar said.
The president of the association, Umesh S., has ruthlessly criticized the project. “The smart city works have become a profitable business and there are efforts to concretize the entire park,” he said.
He suggested that exotic and unwanted plants that have never been seen in the park be planted. “The native grass variety has been removed and replaced with Mexican grass,” Umesh said. “It just harms the biodiversity of the park.”
Another issue is the removal of a large number of bamboo trees from and around Bal Bhavan, a children’s recreation center at the entrance to Cubbon Park’s Queen’s Circle. “The area was called Bamboo Island, and many species of birds and reptiles called it home,” Kumar said. “The bamboo trees have been cleared and barely 10% of them have been replaced.”
That’s not all. Instead of bamboo, palm trees were planted in many places. According to Kumar, the clusters of trees help with carbon dioxide sequestration, thereby controlling rising temperatures. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so the mercury doesn’t rise. Kumar adds that the Bal Bhavan plans have not been made public either.
BenSCL chief executive Rajendra P. Cholan said they did not participate in a public consultation on Bal Bhavan works as it was the responsibility of the Karnataka Bal Bhavan Society.
According to him, unlike Cubbon Park, Bal Bhavan has a committee and officers who make the decisions. And work at Bal Bhavan only started after the company gave the green light, he adds. But any work undertaken outside of Bal Bhavan has had dozens of public consultations, he points out.
Society chairman Chikkamma Basavaraj also denied the allegation, saying the work plans had been approved by experts. “We consulted experts and environmentalists before we started the work. It’s almost impossible to reach every citizen,” she explained.
She justified tearing down the bamboo grove with the aim of preventing fires. “The felled bamboo was over 100 years old and could have caused fire accidents. We had to shorten it out of consideration for the safety of visitors,” said Chikkamma.
To compensate, “enough” bamboo trees will be planted in appropriate locations while respecting Cubbon Park’s pristine nature, she said.
All-round criticism has BenSCL cornered and officials are scrambling to make their case.
“All work is scientific and has only been undertaken after soliciting expert input,” said Vinayak Sugur, Chief Engineer, BenSCL.
Another official called the developments “disheartening and disheartening”. “It becomes difficult to work when people doubt what you do. We care about the ecology of Cubbon Park and will ensure that it is preserved,” the official said.
According to the official, the project started almost two years ago, but there hasn’t been much progress due to these disruptions. “We consulted the public before we started work and incorporated all suggestions. What else could we do?”
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