Protests are brewing over the proposal to cut down trees in KBR national park in Hyderabad, located amidst upscale residential areas of Jubilee Hills. In the last 30 years, for the first time I have seen some protest shaping on protection of natural resources from this section of citizens. It is probably because of younger generation who are little more aware, or it could be the consciousness they would lose the lung space available for them to meet, interact, discuss and relax. It is always good to see citizen action from wherever, in whatever form to protect their interests, especially when they are intertwined with protection of ecology and environment.
Strategic Road Development Project (SRDP) appears to be the brainchild of a thinking that believes that wide roads, flyovers, swank cars and concrete structures continue to be the symbols of development, prosperity and show pieces. The tingle in the eyes of many, wows in their mouths, when they see such development as indicators of modernity and a matter of pride. Juxtapose this image, this dream, with the other picture, in the same area – no water, tankers plying in and out of swank apartments, no sewerage system, floods on the roads after the slightest drizzle and automobile pollution. In this summer, with temperature touching 44 degrees centigrade in April, people with airconditioners at homes and in cars still feel the hear, even while they pay their way to comforts. Even they would need open space to come out of their claustrophobic big homes. With climate change increasing the heat, drought leading to water shortages, people are becoming aware that environment and ecology needs to be protected.
But would saving 3,100 trees from being cut in KBR park is enough to protect ecology and environment in Hyderabad? No. SRDP is a project of mammoth proportions, involving investment of some Rs.20 to 25,000 crores, construction of multiple flyovers, widening roads, building transport corridors. Earlier the same Lee Associates has done Comprehensive Transport Study on Hyderabad, with an ask list totalling Rs.1,75,000 crores to improve only transport infrastructure. It means mostly roads, flyovers and related constructions. SRDP is supposedly an offshoot of these recommendations. Ofcourse, citizens of Hyderabad were not given much time to comment on the study. Now, neither this study nor SRDP has been discussed or tabled for discussed in either Telangana State Assembly or Council of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. SRDP is a mere media information. There is no document either for people to access and comment. Government has not developed any alternative options, and asked citizens to choose between them. SRDP, in a democratic setup, is being given as a fait accompli. Citizens are being fed with the news that there is no choice. Is it so?
There are 12 Universities and many scientific institutions in Hyderabad. There is a large scientific and academic pool of resources. Yet, so far, none of the scientists have warned publicly about the perils of destroying KBR Park. KBR Park is destined for destruction. It is no longer a question of number of trees. KBR Park is located on a ridge, and has been functioning as carbon and water sink. Rainwater from this park flows into two basins of major water reservoirs including Hussainsagar. Destruction of KBR Park will have a cascading effect on Hyderabad in general, and Jubilee Hills in particular. As it is air pollution, in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter, is on par with any congesting areas such as Charminar or Dilsukhnagar, despite a KBR Park. With obliteration of KBR Park, it will be impossible for super sensitive people in costly homes in the vicinity to stay here. If and when the SRDP is completed, and during construction of flyovers, dust levels and particulate matter in the air is likely to multiply, with increase in automobile traffic.
Be that as it may, who will bear the cost of SRDP, whole of Rs.25,000 crores, as per initial estimates? Will it be the road users, tax payers of Hyderabad, or Telangana population? And, who will benefit? With environmental, ecological and economical costs being distributed on the hapless people, who may not see these roads and junctions (like ORR these roads will be reserved for high-end automobiles), one would wonder in whose interest the SRDP is being implemented.
Protesters of KBR Park to get wider support have to widen their objective. Their agitation should go beyond protection of some trees in the buffer zone of KBR Park. It should encompass:
- saving KBR Park as a unit, and not just a few trees.
- protesting against commercial constructions and public infrastructure development together, in KBR Park
- question SRDP as a project and fait accompli, and ask for alternative options
- ask for open space policy in Hyderabad city and
- build advocacy campaign for decentralised, regional development.
Citizens should argue against Hyderabad-centric public investments. With a larger agenda, protesters against tree cutting in KBR Park would have larger support from citizens across Hyderabad and a long term action that ensures justice, fairness, equity and sustainability in relation to usage and protection of natural resources in and around Hyderabad.