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Old News, Old Trees

THE KBR NATIONAL PARK OF HYDERABAD STILL REMAINS IN PERIL, ONLY IN AN OBSCURED MANNER.

20th February, 2021

Written by Aditi Alurkar

Artwork by Niyoshi Parekh

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It is wrongly and widely believed that SaveKBR, an environmental movement resisting felling of trees, has crossed their finishing lines two years ago and all their goals have been met. The lungs of Hyderabad still remain in peril, only in an obscured manner.

The story began in 2002 when the National Board of Wildlife mandated that all sanctuaries and national parks of the country have a 10km wide Eco sensitive zones or ESZs  to act as shock absorbers from human interference. These spaces are meant to ease the transition between the wild and urban cacophonies, minimizing confrontations between these ecosystems, which we know are usually lethal or awkward, sometimes both. However, many of these protected jungles are trapped within the bounds of larger concrete jungles, which made the 10km criteria difficult to meet. The center hence allowed the states to apply and communicate their discretion in such cases.

Present within the pockets of Hyderabad, is one such forest known as Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (KBR) National Park in Hyderabad. Native species of flora and fauna remain untouched and protected within the sanctuary of this forest, with humans causing minimal interference. The park also happens to have rainwater harvesting structures along with lakes and other water bodies of its own. Surrounding this forest lies a 25 - 30 meters wide walkway, allowing the citizens to coexist with nature whilst causing no damage. WIth their occasional visits and morning walks, sometimes sighting peacocks along their way, the Hyderabadis find themselves smitten with the beauty of this walkway, the supposed ESZ for KBR.

A few years ago, in another corner of Hyderabad, lived Ali Abbas, who was facing a rather confusing problem. His twin daughters who were just a year old seemed to have a cold which came with watery eyes. Weeks passed and their health wouldn’t get any better. It took three visits to the doctor to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be a disturbing one. Ali but had to invest in a rather expensive and depressing solution to his daughters’ problem, an air purifier. They were suffering from a dust allergy due to the excessive air pollution in his neighbourhood, which happened to have a flyover.

While back at the city’s National Park, ten trees in the ESZ walkway were axed under the Telangana government's Strategic Road Development Plan (SRDP). It was no surprise that several Hyderabadis decided to take a stand in favour of KBR. Kaajal Maheshwari, a leading figure in the movement, tweeted about this ruination, and Ali decided he had to be a part of this. He had been a vocal environmental campaigner for very long, but this incident really hit home. The SRDP plan intended to construct six multi level flyovers around this space, and the citizens foresaw the pollution, damage and distress the infrastructure and the process would cause to the ecosystem.

“Constructions like flyovers, motivate people to invest in private vehicles. There are barely any footpaths in the locality where I live. The infrastructure of my city is such that families aspire to own more two wheelers and cars, since it is a much better option than public transport as of now. That's what SaveKBR is rooting for. Air, water and food should be a priority for the government, we all have to share it.”

- Ali Abbas

Surprsingly, the voice of these citizens was heard, the talks of the project became scarce, a notice was passed declaring the walkway as a ESZ and all is well concerning the fate of the Park.

Or seemingly so…

The currently declared ESZ still does not fall within the framework laid out by the Environment Protection Act. Although parts of the walkway have been declared as an ESZ, this has only been done whilst accommodating the design for the flyovers in it. It has been extended to 30mts in certain areas for the namesake and puts thousands of trees, or better yet, a whole ecosystem in peril.

The MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest), on being flooded with objections from the public had issued a directive for a public hearing to the Telangana State Government, the criterion remained unmatched and no details of it could be produced, under the excuse of the pandemic. Eventually, the government went ahead and did what they wanted to: hide under the garb of legalities.

So even today, the KBR Movement persists, composed of students, parents, homemakers, animal lovers, or any Hyderabadi with an environmental conscience. The citizens have challenged this problem by resolving to protect their forests, drawing rangolis of peacocks, chanting in local languages and composing songs for the movement. Striving so the city’s children have a chance to benefit from natural sources of clean air. Today the Air Quality Index of Hyderabad falls between 150-200, a range deemed unhealthy for citizens. One cannot help but wonder, there are only a couple more intervals for it to be termed ‘hazardous’.