Forest Cell should not be under the BBMP

There is a proposal to shift the cell back to the Forest Department

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Bangalore Trees
Could the city see greener times if afforestation and tree conservation programmes were done by the Forest Department instead of the beleaguered civic body?

One of the ideas proposed by the Forest Department to counter the loss of greenery in Bengaluru is taking back the Forest Cell from the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The cell currently supervises tree cutting as well as afforestatation programmes.

The department has taken cognisance of complaints of tree felling within the city, said Punati Sridhar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force). “We can do a much better job, and had even got an award for urban planting in Bengaluru in the 1980s [Indira Priyadarshini Vana Mitra Awards for Urban Planting in 1988],” said Mr. Sridhar on the sidelines of a conference on Wednesday to mark the International Day of Forests on the theme of ‘Forests and Sustainable Cities’.

While the Forest Cell works under the civic body, it is staffed by officails of the Forest Department on deputation. The proposal, which is yet to take a formal shape, was floated during a recent meeting between the Forest Cell and Forest Department.

A question of expertise

Forest Cell officers pointed out that bills were kept pending for years in the BBMP while, civic contractors — unlike those selected by the Forest Department — had no experience in planting or maintaining saplings.

“The big difference would be the removal of political pressure in tree cutting, and a more efficient bureaucracy… There really is no point spending so much money on planting lakhs of saplings if there is very little to show,” said a former forest cell official who pushed for the idea at the meeting.

As reported in the past, while the Forest Department claims 95% of their saplings survive, the Forest Cell estimates only around 50-70% of their planted saplings survive.

Rocky functioning

The functioning of the Forest Cell has always been shrouded in controversy. In 2015, the entire Forest Cell of 11 forest personnel wrote to the Forest Department seeking repatriation as they could not work under political pressure. In 2012, the BBMP had summarily booted out the head of the Forest Cell claiming it could not afford his salary.

S.G. Negihal, a retired forest Official who is credited with the tree-lined avenues of the Central Business District planted in the 1980s, believes that reclaiming the Forest Cell could indeed bring about a more systemic plantation programme. “Apart from removing some of the corruption associated with the BBMP, the Forest Department can tap into its nurseries to provide saplings for the city.”

Tree policy soon

The long-pending policy on increasing tree cover in the State will be sent to the government, said the Forest Department. The ‘Karnataka Tree Cover Enhancement Policy 2016’, being drafted for the first time in the State, aims to increase tree cover from 22% to 33% as recommended by the National Forest Policy, 1988. The policy intends to ‘promote and incentivise growing of trees’ in non-forest areas, particularly in government-owned lands and farm lands, as well as setting up of a ‘Tree enhancement fund’ for mass afforestation.

During the programme to observe International Day of Forests, the postal department released a special cover in memory of IFS officer S. Manikandan, who was killed by an elephant recently in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve.

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