Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Green Cities Are Here, Where Are Green Citizens?

“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit”… Moliere

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. And indeed while making people laugh he can make them thinks too via is above quote! Three things happened to make me use his quote for our sharing, as many might not know to bother 3rdMarch is Wild Life Day, we celebrate in India. It’s to make common man aware about the importance of wild life around us. Then my friend Sunil Limaye who himself is die hard forest officer called me for forest departments efforts to make common sparrow along with some other birds restoration in the cities & third is on this background I came across two news contradictory to each other in news paper regarding city greening! Now, one will ask except the Sunil’s thing what’s relevance between my work i.e. real estate, wild life & green cities; & I won’t blame most people asking this question as in our daily EMI or turnover of business we rarely have time to think for sparrows or wild life or greenery around us. Yet each of us has a responsibility towards greenery as well wild life & yes regarding sparrows too. This is what common factor between all three things i.e. we by our self is that common factor.

On occasion of wild life Day, my wild lifer friend Anuj Khare along with forest dept of Pune & PMC has organized an event in which wild life films by well known photographers like Nulla Mutthu & Bedi brothers were shown.

Speaking at inauguration of this wild life film event I said in recent times as one part of society has gained financial stability, there is fashion amongst people to call themselves wild lifer. And all this segment does is, buy costly cameras & its fancy accessories, go to the tiger parks, get nice snaps, upload on FB & Whats-ap groups, count its likes & be happy with their wild lifer tag! Agreed its better than nothing but does wild life is just visiting tiger parks & clicking snaps, is the question we should ask ourselves. As we all have our duty towards saving wild life & the question we should ask our self is what I am doing for it? We come to wild life film festivals, watch these wonderful shoot wild life for which people have donated their life, clap the work of cameraman & thanks ngo’s like Anuj as well forest dept & we go home! Is that enough, is what I will ask you to ask yourself. One of the films shown is about wild life in Western Ghats & how many citizens of Pune even know they are part of Western Ghats & party to destruction for the same? Many will get shocked genuinely & ask how they are party to destruction of Western Ghats? Well many of us lives in so called buildings (I am not forgetting I too am a builder) which have been made by displacing trees & agreed we need homes but if we are cutting a tree which was part of biodiversity of Western Ghats then what I have done to repair this damage, is the question I want you to ask each of you!

Then second thing was about forest departments’ drive for restoration of sparrows along with other birds like bulbul, maina which were common sight few years back all around the cities like Pune & which are not seen anymore. All we get to see in city like Pune is crow, gray pigeon & kite, that’s it. Forest dept fortunately has realized their job is not just restricted to the declared forests but in cities their need is more. If we have conquered forest lands for our living needs then the only way to restore the forests is creating it within the humans i.e. in cities! As then only the birds like sparrows which we have driven out from the cities will come back to us & this is not going to happen on its own. We need to understand what sparrows need to survive in the cities & provide it to them & do it fast. Main thing is whenever we want to restore any specie may it be a tiger or sparrow, it’s not possible without creating their habitat i.e. a complete life cycle of which they are one link. Means when we want sparrows back in city we will have to provide them their space in form of trees, bushes, grass & dust where they can build their nests & get their wings dry in dust. Then we need to make their food cycle which is not just grain bowls but insects along with fresh water supply all round the year. And lastly we need to keep the sparrows safe from air as well noise pollution & give them their privacy where they can breed & grow in numbers! Then only the sparrows & bulbul & mainas will be back amongst us & make our life wonderful by their chirping! And we have to do it fast as we are rampantly building our glass & concrete homes & offices, by replacing soil, trees, grass & natural water sources which are home for sparrows!

Third thing is news about State Govt’s drive for making cities green, especially in 43 cities which comes under Amrit category in the scheme by Central govt. For those who are unaware of what’s Amrit scheme, it’s like Smart City project for Metros but aimed at cities of which population ranges from one lac to three lac. These are the cities which are potential hubs for future migration & right from now if we gear up to accommodate the migrants then we can avoid the mistakes of damaging nature which we have seen in present Metro cities like Mumbai & Pune! So under this scheme all these cities will have Green Parks within the cities which will act as oxygen cylinders for the city. Idea is great but right from finding such place, acquiring the same & then making the trees survive without any encroachments are the challenges! As what has happened with such green belts & Bio Diversity Parks in city like Pune with every infrastructure available with administration we all have witnessed. One classic example is Naik Bet (Island) right in heart of city which was supposed to be developed as bird’s park. But present scene is neither PMC nor forest dept accepts responsibility of maintaining it & the place has become dumping yard of garbage as well full of encroachments & all illegal trades! If such is scene in so called aware Pune city how we are going to make it in smaller cities is the main question we should ask. One sure way is giving responsibility to local body with full authority to penalize or reward as per the need arrives. As no landlord will give his land for plantation or for Green Park unless he gets full compensation & even after that there is no guaranty he will be ready so treat Green Parks as essential service to the city & give forceful acquisition authority to the local governing body & see that they do it or stop their entire funding! And then a periodical check should be there for progress on plantation front. Make entire city’s residents aware as well accountable for plantation. Here I will share a simple way which we have used at our sites. In Pune for every 80 sq mt of plat area planting one tree is compulsory for garden dept’s NOC while obtaining occupation certificate of any project. Though most builders follows the plantation norms hardly few cares what happens about its survival as once possession is given then the builder has no hold on the tree upbringing. Then there is deposit of some Rs 25,000/- which the builder has to deposit with garden department & which is paid back only after confirmation of the tree has survived & grown well. Again this amount is peanuts in compare to project cost so nobody bothers to take it back & result is very few such newly planted trees survives. Joke is till today Pune’s garden dept has no exact record of how many new tree has planted in last five years in the new projects & how many of them has been survived. This is happening in city like Pune where Municipal Corporation is in existence for more than fifty years & people are aware about tress; imagine what must be seen in town level cities! What we have done in our projects is we plant all these trees at the hands of our flat holders only & put a board  near the tree with name of concerned flat holder on it. We give oath to the flat holders that they have adopted this particular tree & they will make it sure it survives & will take care of the tree like their family member! One major advantage of putting a board with name of lat holder is we are very fussy about our name. If the tree with my name board dies & my neighbor’s tree survive, everybody will notice it & for fear factor of my social image I will take care of the tree, is what we thought. And the idea has worked well to such extent that tree survival ratio in our completed projects is nearly 90%! I think when we say we need to make cities green, first it’s the citizens which we have to make think green; as cities are made & maintained green by the green citizens & not by just planning some so called green policies & bylaws! And for this we can make green committees like we have mohalla committees at ward level in municipal corporations or nagar parishad level. Also we can think of Green Citizen award at ward level, for maximum plantation as well individual citizen’s efforts for making his or her surrounding green.

And then on all this green background I came across news about change in infamous Tree Act; I used the term infamous, as neither builders nor the NGO’s used to like it. The main issue is tree cutting in the city & its procedure under the act. I always say don’t make the acts which will make people to defeat the very purpose of it; classic example is Tree Act, its age old & not suitable to cover today’s problems. Even if in a bungalow if a tree has gone old  & in state of falling then also the bungalow owner whose grandfather only has panted it has to go through such a tiresome procedure to get permission that he become enemy of the tree. Same is situation with societies & result is people don’t plant big trees in first place thinking later it will be nuisance to get rid of it. As usual every law is for those who follow or respect it as even Tree Act in force tree cutting hasn’t been stopped in the city is a fact. There are hundreds of trees which gets cut every day due to loop holes in the act or reluctance of the authorities to implement the tree act. Also under this law it was mandatory to have a tree authority in position which will approve every single tree cutting & all those who have ever approached for getting tree cutting permission for even a single tree knows how this tree authority was used to function! Now that tree authority itself has been removed by the new law & the concern tree officer will be giving permission for any new tree cutting request after analyzing the genuineity of the proposal. If number of trees required to be cut is more than twenty five the Hon Municipal Commissioner has authority for the same as per amendment in the act, this is what NGO’s are thinking making the act soft over the builders! What I feel, it’s not how hard or soft any law is but what’s attitude of common man as well the authorities towards the law is what decides the effectiveness of that law; and Tree Act is also not exception to this logic. Earlier also when it was supposedly stringent then what wonder it has make is what we should ask & how we are going to survive the trees is what we should focus.

This is how Wild Life, Sparrow Conservation Program & Green Park news are interlinked with real estate as well city because we need our city to be green for better future of our next generations & so does need the sparrows & even the tigers their habitat for their secured future. This all ultimately is a circle of life where Forest, Urban Development, Local Governing Bodies & most importantly citizens, if all these ends meet together then only there is some hope for trees, sparrows & tigers. After all when we call real estate its human habitat & what better environment can be there for humans than birds chirping, clean air & greenery around! So let’s decide not to encroach on forests & give the animals there space as that’s the only way where tigers will be safe & happy in their habitat & we the human will be at peace in ours, a perfect balance of life! And time is short, because it hardly takes few minutes to cut a tree of hundred year old or it takes just few years to drive away birds like sparrows from any particular habitat. But as Moliere has said it takes ages to bear the best fruits of a tree & if we don’t plant that tree right now then the only fruit we deserve is our dark & bitter future!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.


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