In photos: Age-old trees felled for Bellary road widening

BBMP's decision to fell nearly 54 trees, in front of Palace Grounds, to widen Bellary road has drawn the ire of citizens and environmentalists.

Every discussion among residents or at the policy level concerning mobility and commute infrastructure is often about the reduction of private, motorised vehicles on the road and the increase of public transport availability and accessibility. However, the government seems to have missed the point as it is committed to constructing flyovers and underpasses, and widening roads to prioritise cars, much to the chagrin of concerned citizens and mobility experts.

In the latest scheme of things, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) decision to fell nearly 54 trees in front of Palace Grounds to widen Bellary road has drawn the ire of citizens, activists and environmentalists alike. The government has envisioned the exercise of widening Bellary road to yield a four-lane road, due to which more than 50 trees in the 630-metre stretch will be chopped down. 

The stretch of road in front of Palace Grounds on the way to the Guttahalli flyover in Bengaluru.
Trees within the Palace Ground premises form a thick canopy here. This photo, taken from the Cauvery junction, is of the road towards the Guttahalli flyover, which leads to the Windsor manor signal, another traffic bottleneck. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

Referring to the road from Windsor Manor junction to Hebbal, in an article, Special commissioner (Traffic) M. A. Saleem said it has “poor road symmetry”, which results in traffic congestion and increases travel time for commuters.

Will road widening solve traffic management?

An illustration of the asymmetric stretch of road that is being worked on for the widening of Bellary road.
“Wider roads mean more dangerous roads,” says Instagram user Bengawalk. This is an illustration of the asymmetric stretch in front of Palace Grounds that is currently being worked on. Pic: Bengawalk/Instagram

There are already multiple underpasses, flyovers and skywalks built along this stretch, which means this isn’t the first intervention that is being carried out in terms of traffic management. If none of them has yielded results, would road widening be another shot in the dark?

The road towards Four Seasons Hotel  on Bellary Road, Bengaluru.
From Cauvery theatre junction, the road splits into four lanes; two of them form the Mekhri circle underpasses, which stretch ahead to join Mekhri circle bus stop and skywalk (near the Four Seasons hotel building). Pic: Pragathi Ravi.
A stretch of road, in front of Palace Grounds, under construction for the Bellary Road widening project.
The areas under construction abutting the roads have been cordoned off with barricades, and the banner reads: “Bellary road development work is in progress”. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

The road remains jammed with ambulances and vehicles of VIPs (often accompanied by convoys) at all hours of the day, as they ply to the Central Business District (CBD) areas from their residences in Sadashivanagar, RT Nagar, and further north of Bengaluru. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s residence in RT Nagar is within a kilometre’s distance of Mekhri circle.

Un uprooted tree on Bellary Road.
Uprooted tree debris lies across the upturned cobblestones that marked the path adjacent to the road. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

Bellary road measurements

Quoting the Comprehensive Development Plan, a traffic impact study had calculated the measurements of Bellary road to be 67 metres wide with a two metre-wide pedestrian footpath, which was raised by 200 millimetres above the carriage way, and a two metre wide shoulder on both sides of the road.

Road construction a little ahead of Tripura Vasini White Petals on Bellary Road.
The construction starts a little ahead of Tripura Vasini White Petals and continues until Gate No 9 in front of Palace Grounds. Pic: Pragathi Ravi
Men rewiring an underground/overhead communication wire connected to a communications repeater on Bellary road.
The men rewiring an underground/overhead communication wire, connected to a communications repeater, mentioned the cutting of trees goes on only at night. They were not aware of how long this exercise might take and pointed ahead, towards Gate no.9/Cauvery junction, where most of the chopped trees lay. Pic: Pragathi Ravi.

The municipal body’s official memorandum, dated May 10 2022, sought permission for the removal and translocation of trees over the 2.19 kilometre stretch of Bellary road (NH7). Through the letter, the Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE), Project Division, Yelahanka zone, BBMP, requested permission to clear 148 trees, starting from Royal International School until Vidyashilpi Academy. The AEE has stated that the project is in public interest as the current 30-feet road will be widened to an extent of 60 feet. 

The road abutting the premises of Palace Grounds in Bengaluru.
This area abutting the Palace Ground premises seems like it was recently cleared. This wide stretch was also the one taken by the palace horses to reach the adjacent gates. Pic: Pragathi Ravi
Construction debris and uprooted trees on Bellary Road.
As on January 7th, the construction debris and uprooted trees lay on the side of the road, waiting to be cleared. Existing footpaths were dug up as well. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

Read more: How climate change is threatening tree species in Bengaluru

Tree felling excercise underway to widen Bellary Road, Bengaluru.
As one walks along the road, it is impossible not to notice how the road once looked before the tree felling started. Several decades-old trees have been chopped down. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

Citizens can raise objections to tree felling

In December 2022, Citizen Matters reported on how it has been a long struggle to preserve trees in the city as Bengaluru lost 78% of its vegetation in the last four decades. The report also mentioned how any agency, if it wants to cut 50 or more trees for any project, are required to file an application to the Tree Officer of the BBMP.

Decades-old trees cut down for Bellary Road widening project.
Decades-old trees along Bellary road have been uprooted/chopped down for road widening. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

The aforementioned report also highlights that a public notice will have to be issued calling for citizens’ objections, as they get ten days to file their objections. Public objections were invited through a public notice dated February 7 2022, and the memorandum states that “no suggestion/objection was received from the public within the stipulated time.”

Trees along Bellary Road with red markings.
Several trees within the cordoned-off area have marks and etchings, we are unsure if these markings are for trees that are supposed to be chopped. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

However, a recent report mentions that BBMP’s forest cell received 50 suggestions, with citizens objecting to the loss of green cover and the subsequent impact on water bodies located within Palace Grounds.

The Tree Expert Committee (TEC), which assesses the application, should seek justifications for the projects that need tree-felling. “TEC should ask if road widening is at all required,” Dattatraya T Devare, trustee of Bangalore Environment Trust (BET), had told the reporter.

Stubs of cut trees near Gate no. 9 of Palace Grounds.
The stubs of trees cut down can be seen near Gate No.9. The footpaths will be dug up until the construction is completed. Pic: Pragathi Ravi

The same stretch on the other side (that borders Sadashivanagar) still has a row of thick, tall trees, the canopies of which give shade to commercial complexes, residences, and nearly half of this road.

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