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Residents' Initiative To Turn The City Green

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Tabloids are not just about scandals, glambiz and other trivia. Bangalore Mirror and a local private trust have clubbed up to promote tree planting in their city. Mrs. Janet Yegneswaran, who founded the trust a couple of years back in memory of her husband, has been engaged in encouraging Bangalore residents and neighborhood communities to chip in their bit in her endeavour to make a difference to the city’s green cover.

Tree lovers can have saplings planted in their neighbourhood on payment of Rs.100. Janet’s Tree-for-free trust – identifies vacant spaces and seeks permission from authorities and site owners to have saplings planted on their land for free. Residents can sponsor saplings to be planted at specified spots, to mark special occasions such as birthday, death anniversary of dear ones, wedding day, graduation, and what have you. A California-based NRI, at the end of her vacation in Bangalore, had 21 saplings planted the day she left India, as her farewell gesture to the city.

Imagine the number of city students going abroad for higher studies; young IT professionals leaving on their first posting abroad. If each one them were to plant a sapling to mark their bon voyage, we would have green cover in many neighborhoods and also the stretch between the city to Devanahalli in three to five years. Isn’t this something that ought to interest the city authorities and BIAL? I would suggest they launch an ad campaign – ‘ A Green way to Leave the City; Leave behind a Tree’.

Anyway, the day Bangalore Mirror carried the story of an NRI’s farewell gesture Janet’s phone didn’t stop ringing; people called to have saplings sponsored in their names. Janet, who has been running the trust since Nov. 2005, hasn’t heard from so many sponsors on any single day since the trust was founded in 2005. She got a call from a public school boy, in 7th std., wanting to plant saplings near his house at Banashankari.

A resident of K R Puram wanted saplings for his site at Baglur layout. A residents association, representing 50 houses in Shakthinagar (near Banaswadi) wanted to have two saplings planted on every house-front. The NRI whose farewell gesture triggered a spurt in sponsors had 21 saplings planted at Cartman Eco Park in Koramangala. It is said the foreign nationals working for Earth.org have planted 237 saplings, one each for every country on earth.

Meanwhile, in Mysore, a grandiose plan launched to restore the city’s green cover, at an estimated cost of Rs.128.04 lakhs, has run into trouble. Why? Because of a fund-flow issue involving the Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA) and the forest department. Unlike Janet’s trust, government departments tend to get bogged down with cost estimates and funding. Costing is important, but fund-flow (between departments, which is usually a matter of book adjustment) can’t be the be-all and end all of a community welfare scheme.

According to the media, trouble with the Green Mysore Project started right in the first year (2005), when the forest department planted only 37,000 saplings, instead of the targeted one lakh plants. There is no knowing as to how many of them survive today, as the department has stopped maintenance of the planted saplings. What is worse, the departmental nurseries have no saplings to be planted in 2008.

The forest department claims MUDA owes them Rs.32.76 lakhs till date, of which Rs.19.75 lakhs is required for nurturing saplings for planting in 2008. And repeated reminders to MUDA have gone unanswered. Going by the media report, MUDA has much to answer for, if the Green Mysore project is given up.

But the forest department doesn’t cover itself with glory either. As partners in the project, shouldn’t the department explore other ways to keep the tree planting going? The green Mysore story is typical of most government projects. Fund-flow falls short of budgetary commitment. There follows a flurry of letters, file-notes, meetings, and recorded minutes. And the project gets shelved for want of funds.

The point is that neither the forest department nor MUDA appears have given the Green Mysore project the priority it deserves. What’s more , they don’t appear accountable to the public, insofar as neither MUDA nor the forest department has seen it necessary to sustain public awareness in the greening project, with periodical progress report on the project. As partners in its implementation MUDA and the forest department could release through the media a quarterly progress review, giving details of not just the money spent, but also the number saplings planted during the previous quarter, their cumulative total, plants survival rate; and the localities covered till date.

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