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Green cover can save Dhaka City from environmental disaster

Trees felled on Tuesday on the Saat Masjid Road in the city recently
Trees felled on Tuesday on the Saat Masjid Road in the city recently

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Two contrasting developments in the two city corporations! While the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) has taken up a programme of planting 200,000 saplings in two years, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) is felling trees on the Satmasjid road median in the name of infrastructure development and beautification. The DNCC mayor's objective is clear: when grown into trees, they will account for a significant green cover enough to keep the city's temperature low. On the other hand, the felling of trees on the road divider in Dhanmoni has drawn ire from the local people of the area as well as environmentalists.

The mayhem of the trees on Satmasjid Road started as early as January this year. Already the trees in the section between the Abahani playground and Jigatola have been denuded and a concrete median is replacing the earlier one. Now the environmental groups and locals have organised public protests against the felling of trees. But clearly, they are late in making their feeling known. This development project started in September, 2022 and the felling of trees began in the middle of January this year.

There should have been public protest against the mayhem right at that time. In fact, newspapers published reports on this so-called development and beautification programme. This scribe also focused on this issue, demanding abandonment of the mass extermination of trees on the median. Now that indigenous trees like banyan, neem and plum two decades old have been mowed down from the larger segment of the road, the protest, even if it is effective, cannot bring back those lost trees.

The DSCC chief engineer is, however, reported to have said that the median will be double the size with ample space for plantation of better quality trees. There is a provision for tree plantation on the median. If it happens, well and good. But shouldn't the DSCC consult with the local inhabitants or at least notify them through a public notice what it really intended to do?

Environmentalists and urban planners agree that the development work and beatification could be accomplished without bringing the trees down. Newly planted saplings will take years and decades to grow to maturity and will not replace those felled. By decimating a considerably mature tree, people do not only put an end to a life but also a milestone, a culture and history that carries a bond of familiarity, a heritage from one generation to another. This cultural association has no replacement.

Way back in 1981, this scribe was pleasantly surprised to see that at Chanayka Marg of New Delhi, the road planners had elongated some portion of the footpath in order to protect a tree which was well past its prime and showed signs of decline. In an earlier piece, this fact was mentioned. Similarly, the enviable green cover of Bangalore was also cited to point to the urgency of planting trees on every available roadside vacant space in this capital. The difference of 10 degree Celsius of temperature between the capital city's hotspots and a tree-covered rural site is indeed concerning enough. Then it should not escape discerning people's notice that in the Dhaka cantonment areas, the heat is much less than in the city proper. Again, there is a significant difference in temperatures between the Ramna area with tree covers and the commercial hubs with no greenery.

Dhaka city cannot instantly have primeval trees like those in the Lalbagh Garden and Cubbon Park in Bangalore but if the DNCC mayor's tree plantation programme becomes successful, one day the future generation will boast such natural guardians and protectors of environment. Under an agreement between the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation and the DNCC, the tree plantation programme will be carried out. Significantly, a chief heat officer has been appointed, first of its kind in Asia, aimed at cooling down the city's temperature.

The mayor of the north Dhaka has also revealed that after eviction of illegal land grabbers from the Lautola canal, 2,000 saplings have already been planted on its banks. These are the right moves to make Dhaka city cooler to a large degree. But both DNCC and DSCC can do more by planting trees in a planned way in order to turn the city's avenues aesthetically pleasing with rows of trees selected carefully. The New Town in Kolkata may be an example of how this can be done even in this part of the world.

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