Grassland Story, Vol-II

October 27, 2019
Mahesh Bhat
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Sometime in August of 2011,  a senior IAS officer, the then  head of Bangalore Development (Destruction?) Authority, stood on the Hesaraghatta grassland and declared “Birds? What birds? I cannot even see a sparrow”. So I was told. The government of Karnataka had begun a programme called “Namma Hasiru Maale (Our Green Garland). The idea was to plant 1 crore saplings in all the owned landsthat were lying ’empty’/’fallow’ – I use these words with caution though.

They came to Hesaraghatta. There was an area of few acres where there was a big Acacia plantation. This plantation had just been harvested and it was a clearing. They started planting saplings there at the height of the summer – March/April. They planted, brought in tankers and tankers of water drawn from bore wells 700 ft deep and the saplings survived.

Then they decided to plant over 1 lakh saplings in the 3500 acres around the reservoir. They also decided to plant on the grassland and one fine morning, earth movers came in and started digging holes to plant.

Grassland dug up – August, 2011

Saplings transported from far off places getting unloaded, 2011

This is a grassland and scrub forest for a reason. We are on the southern tip of the Deccan Plateau. Average annual rainfall is less than 1000mm. The land is rocky. Grass is one of the most resilient living beings. Their roots can survive the dry periods and shoot up when it rains. Scrub has evolved to survive without much water and in dry weather.

Our Green Garland had planned to plan 1 crores saplings at the cost of Rs.140/- each. This included the cost of procuring the sapling, transporting it to the planting site, planting, watering and maintaining them for a year or two. Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) was entrusted with the task. If I remember right, they called for a tender but no one was interested. So an organisation called Karnataka Nirmiti Kendra was given the job and BDA was supervising. An officer of Karnataka Forest Department, on deputation to BDA was the point man.

I opposed the tree planting. I had to educate the forest officer that grassland needed to be left as a grassland. I had to tell him that it is an important area for birds, for migratory birds of prey and other beings that can live only on the grassland. He mentioned this to his boss and the head of BDA apparently went to inspect the grassland for bio diversity.And I was told later by this forest officer on deputation what his boss had to say. “Birds? What birds? I cannot even see a sparrow”

They dug up half the grassland before stopping due to the pressure exerted by me and my colleagues.

They apparently planted about 100000 saplings around the lake at a cost of Rs.1.4 crores. And within two years 90% of the saplings perished. Grasslands and scrub jungles do see fires in the dry season and many saplings got burnt. Meanwhile the plants which were planted in the acacia clearing had grown well. Then there was a big fire and they died as well. Today after eight years, a handful of the 100000 saplings have taken root. Carbon emitted by all the digging, transporting the saplings over long distances, tractors used for watering will never be neutralised.

Again I had to stop Karnataka Forest Department from planting saplings on the grasslands as recent as 2018..we don’t learn..

The grassland after a major fire.

Grass has since grown back and the scrub jungles are fine too.

A lot of our money was wasted, perhaps as it all/most of the government work some/over half the money would have been siphoned off. With thousands of crores being spent on afforestation programmes, there is a lot of money to be made. Mystics and masters toured around the country in expensive SUVs and bikes and have professed that tree planting on catchment areas is the cure to nurse our ailing rivers back to health. Nothing could be more wrong.