City last on green cover list - Survey blames random felling, realty surge

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By JAYANTA BASU in Bangalore
  • Published 13.11.06

Bangalore: 8.60 per cent, National Capital Region (New Delhi): 8.49 per cent, Greater Mumbai: 6.20 per cent, Chennai: 7.50 per cent…

And the corresponding figure for Calcutta is a paltry 0.95 per cent.

The numbers indicate percentage of green cover as a proportion of the total area for major Indian cities. Needless to say, the list — prepared by the Delhi-based National Institute of Environment Studies (NIES) — makes it clear that Calcutta has the lowest green count among all the cities.

“It was a comprehensive survey covering 16 major cities carried out some time in 1999 and 2000. The findings revealed that the spread of green in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area was the lowest,” said environment activist S.M. Ghosh.

According to the established norms, green cover should be at least 15 per cent for megacities with a million-plus population. Lack of open space and greenery increases air pollution and triggers respiratory and other problems, besides raising temperature, affecting biodiversity and causing psychosomatic disorders among citizens.

But the NIES report stated that green cover has been continuously depleting in Calcutta, from 1.3 per cent in 1997-98 to 0.95 per cent in 1999-2000, due to indiscriminate felling of trees and a surge in real estate projects.

The findings of the NIES report — based on satellite imagery, ground-level verification of data and a rough census of trees — were placed before Calcutta High Court in connection with a PIL that Ghosh had filed in 1999.

“NIES conducted the study in 1999-2000. There is little doubt that the situation has deteriorated in the past few years. But instead of trying to undo the damage, the government is compounding it,” said environment activist Subhas Dutta, expressing dismay at the proposal of holding the Book Fair on the Maidan again.

The patch of green — spread over 600 hectares — at the heart of the city contributes to more than 60 per cent of the city’s total green cover.

Various state-sponsored reports have echoed the NIES findings. In 1996, a CMDA report — Sustaining Calcutta — highlighted that 23 of the 100 wards (excluding the 41 in the added areas) in Calcutta had no organised open space.

The less-than-one-per-cent green cover claim was also corroborated by a 2000 report — prepared by state experts — that was submitted to the court.

“I know of the NIES report… But we are planning our own remote-sensing exercise to know the status of the green cover in the city,” said Somnath Mukherjee, in-charge of urban forestry in Calcutta.

While the state government is reinventing the wheel, the environmentalists are peeved by unplanned urbanisation, absence of a law to curb felling of trees and the fair threat to the Maidan, the lungs of Calcutta.

“The situation is already bad. Now, if the government allows Book Fair and then goes on to construct a permanent structure, it will be doing further damage to the city’s environment,” warned Dutta.