The Telegraph
Monday , June 16 , 2014
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In every squall, city loses bit of green

Calcutta suffers an irreplaceable loss in almost every squall: a bit of its green.

The late-afternoon storms on Saturday and Sunday had felled at least 30 trees in different parts, knocked down by winds swirling through the city at 54kmph and 57kmph, respectively.

The dismal fact is that these uprooted trees never get replaced. A source in the state forest department said: “No mechanism is in place to monitor any afforestation effort after storms.”

Agencies like the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), the PWD and the CMDA are responsible for planting and maintaining saplings since the city loses an aggregate of 10 to 15 trees every time a storm batters it.

Even “a small squall uproots 10 trees” on an average, a civic official said.

“Altogether 30 trees were uprooted by storms on Saturday and Sunday afternoons,” said Debasish Kumar, the CMC mayoral council member in charge of parks.

Kumar said the “CMC plants more than the number of uprooted trees” but seldom in areas devastated by storms.

Environmentalists said “compensatory planting” should be done close to the uprooted trees to maintain the city’s green cover.

“Calcutta has far less greenery than it should because of unplanned growth. Burgeoning pollution has turned several busy roads into heat islands. If we do not replenish the storm-damaged trees, our microclimate will go for a toss,” said an expert with the environment science department at Calcutta University.

Camac Street, JL Nehru Road and the area in front of Calcutta High Court bore the brunt of the high-velocity wind accompanied by rain.

Camac Street had suffered the worst because several trees had to be cut for a road-widening project.

CMC sources said two large trees fell on Camac Street and Judge’s Court Road respectively on Saturday.

Forest experts attributed the uprooting of big trees, which could withstand 100kmph winds in rural areas, to the thick layers of concrete under the surface. “Trees seldom get a firm toehold in a city because the concrete in pavements and underground facilities like sewer blocks don’t allow the roots to expand. Since the concrete leaves no space for water to seep down to the sub-soil, the roots turn weak and the trees become vulnerable to strong winds.”

International standards demand 9 to 20sq m of greenery per city-dweller.

Delhi’s greenery extends to 20 per cent of its land, which is 22sq m of green space for each person living in the national capital.

Calcutta’s greenery is restricted to 2 per cent of its land, a measly 2sq m per capita green space, according to 2011 figures published in the Asian Green City Index.

Experts said the city’s greenery index was worrying because trees were necessary for a healthy urban environment, absorbing pollutants released by vehicles and factories, replenishing oxygen supply and acting as a buffer to climate change.

A report says planned vegetation can reduce the use of air-conditioners in a tropical city like Calcutta by 50 per cent.

Forest department officials admitted that the department “does not keep tabs” on whether new trees have been planted in areas, mostly roadsides, where trees had fallen.

“There is strict monitoring in case of planned felling of trees. Any individual or organisation seeking permission to cut a tree has to deposit a fee and make sure to plant new trees. Once the new tree assumes a certain height, the money is refunded. If the person or organisation doesn’t keep the promise, the money is forfeited,” said a senior forest official.

A CMC official said: “A sapling cannot be planted immediately after a storm uproots a tree. It is a meticulous and time-consuming process because the old tree’s roots remain alive and entwined with CESC’s underground cables. If we try to pull it up with a crane, the cables get damaged. We allow the roots to dry and wither out. Our workers dig around the roots and slowly bring them out. A sampling can be planted only after that. The entire process takes at least six months.”

“We have a target of planting one lakh trees this year. The rate of survival of trees planted during monsoon is 80 per cent. Otherwise, it comes down to 30 per cent or less,” said the CMC official.

Somnath Mukherjee, a retired forest official, summed up the need of the hour. “Calcutta needs a greenery management plan, for each major thoroughfare.”