Guwahati, Thursday, August 11, 2016
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Needed urgently: Urban forests in Guwahati
Ajit Patowary

 GUWAHATI, Aug 10 - It is a do or die situation. Guwahatians must immediately wake up and take up the issue seriously. Or else, they are bound to face a disastrous consequence in the days to come, said noted botanist Dr RN Bhattacharjee, a retired Professor and Head of the Department of Botany, Cotton College. He was speaking to this correspondent on the need to develop urban forests in Guwahati.

Guwahati is considered as the most rapidly expanding city of Asia. Within a short span of time, the city has transformed itself into a huge conglomerate of concrete structures, devoid of any ameliorating climate around. And this is making it a heat island during the summers. It becomes a city of dust in the winter.

The city has no park worth mentioning. There virtually exists no playground for children. Its hills are gradually losing their lush green cover. The patches of existing green areas in the city are considered “wastelands” meant for construction of apartments.

Efforts should be made to put in place an action plan to revegetate the city with local avenue plants in a massive way and to conserve all vacant government land within the city for developing mini forests and making them accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and nature-lovers, he said.

Each and every institution, government and private offices must start planting trees if such vacant space is available. Government, institutions, NGOs and others should not simply indulge in ceremonial plantation programmes. Follow-up care should be taken.

But the most important point is to formulate a strategy, as soon as possible, to conserve the ecology of Deepor Beel, and the existing forests and green corridors of all the hillocks and their foothill areas in and around the city and to create enough recreational spots there.

The city hills along with their vegetation are actually acting as the lung of the city. The government should take the matter with due seriousness and constitute an empowered committee for preparing an action plan, while the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) should create a department on the lines of developed countries to take care of the avenue plants and mini forests, as and when created.

The inhabitants of the city hills should be motivated to form local committees to maintain a strong vigil so that the natural habitats of the hills are not destroyed.

The urban forestry concept came into existence in the United States (US) about a century back. This concept has now spread to all continents. Urban forest includes avenue trees and isolated patches of forested areas in cities.

Besides beauty, trees provide many practical benefits such as shade from the summer sun, protection from dusty winds and habitat for wildlife, besides providing outdoor recreational opportunities. Trees significantly reduce water, air and noise pollution, check soil erosion, moderate local climate, do not allow formation of heat island and augment tourism.

The greatest benefit of such efforts is perhaps derived by individuals and community groups working together to plant and preserve trees, developing in the process, important conservation values and fostering community spirit.

Also, the presence of trees reduces stress, and this has long been recognised beneficial to the health of urban dwellers. The shade of trees and other urban green spaces make place for people to meet, socialise, recreate and play, said Prof Bhattacharjee.

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