Bangalore Environment Trust Newsletter, December 1996

Sat, 03/03/2007 - 19:59 admin



Karnataka Heritage Society : Project on Ficus Trees

The Banyan
The Karnataka Heritage Society was set up with the brief of identifying and preserving the hereditary treasures of the State whether man-made or God-given. One of its projects concerns itself with saving the three species of trees of the Ficus family - Ficus benghaiensis. Ficus religiosa and Ficus glomerata. For most Indians, the banyan and peepal symbolise and represent the natural life of our country.

If the aerial roots of the banyan are given an opportunity to reach the ground, they provide crutches for its old age, and in fact a new tree grows out of the new roots enabling it to spread over a large area and survive foi;, thousands of years. A great banyan tree in the Royal Botanical Garden of Calcutta is the largest in the world, having been planted in 1782. Another famous tree in Andhra Pradesh is said to have a circumference of 2000 ft., have over 3000 trunks, under which 20,000 people could take shelter.

The Peepal
This is a large tree with an erect trunk, and provides excellent shade by its widely spreading branches. The leaves are smooth and heart shaped with a long stalk and a pointed apex. With the slightest breeze, the leaves are set in sparkling and tinkling motion and provide a glorious sight. Birds are the agents for dispersing the seeds, which often mature in the most inhospitable places like the walls of buildings and rock surfaces. The peepal is known for the fact that Lord Gautham Buddha obtained enlightenment under its shade at Bodha Gaya more than 2000 years ago. Like the banyan, the peepal too is a common tree in Bangalore and well protected by the local community for its religious significance. Apart from the religious myths and legends which surround it, almost all parts of the tree, including its bark, have some medicinal value.

The peepal too, is capable of reaching a great age. A record in the Kew Gardens in England, gives the age of a peepal tree at Anuraghapura in 1852 to be 2147 years old.

Bangalore is fortunate to have a surprisingly large number of these ficus trees even within city limits, surviving because of religious sentiment. The Karnataka Heritage Society will attempt to increase the numbers and qualities of these trees. The risk of destruction of such trees does not come from the community close to them, destruction is the result of neglect and casual mishandling or damage. There are three major sources of danger:

  • Ill-treatment by the Karnataka Electricity Bcard, the Public Works Department, the Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board, who often damage and destroy these trees during their operation.

  • Damaging of the aerial roots by men and animals and preventing them from entering the ground.

  • Danger from developers who are determined to clear the land, while using their wood for centering for their building projects.

The Karnataka Heritage Society and the Department of Environment, Government of Karnataka, propose to place a plaque on some of the more spectacular Ficus trees, both within urban limits and in the countryside. You are requested to inform the Karnataka Heritage Society of any suitable tree which needs such protection.

Projects for saving Ficus trees
One of the activities of the recently formed Karnataka Heritage Society under the Chairmanship of J. C. LYNN is to document the status and protect the three species of ficus trees in Bangalore.

Officials ignore proven parthenium counter-attack

BANGALORE: A biological counter-attack to the parthenium weed that grows close to your home - causing your rhinitis or skin disease - is available, but was ignored by those in authority in Bangalore.

Parthenium, which is a major cause for the allergies faced by many Bangaloreans, can be controlled biologically with the help of another plant, claims a botanist from the University of Agricultural Sciences.

Yet, though the seed has been ready for use for over 11 years, the Bangalore City Corporation (BCC) decided to try it out only three years ago. Moreover, according to BCC health officer K. Chowdappa, after setting up a nursery in Bommanahalli to germinate the seed on a large scale, the BCC has lost track. "I don't know of the present stock position, " he told The Times of India when contacted. Dr. Syamasundar Joshi, head of the Botany department of the University of Agricultural Sciences, says his disappointment lies not in his work being ignored, but its usefulness being deprived to the city of allergies. He says, "I have done my work, but I certainly do not have the resources to take up the extension and popularisation work which can completely eradicate this noxious weed from India." A saviour to agricultural crops has something that can reduce the suffering of the people allergic to the pollen grains of "congress grass", as the common man calls parthenium. The method of suppression is very simple says Dr. Joshi. He had identified another plant called Cassia uniflora, a native of West Indies and Bahamas, which when grown alongside Parthenium hysterophorus completely suppresses its growth without causing any problem to the humans and other plants.

He says: "The parthenium which spreads like wild fire is not only harmful to crop plants, but also to livestock and humans. It causes diseases like dermatitis, rhinitis and hay fever in sensitised humans and causes lesions in the buccal cavity and ulcers in the alimentary canal of animals grazing on it, in addition to massive loss of crop." Mechanical and chemical methods of removal of parthenium are too costly and so, Dr. Joshi thought of introducing biological control. the cassia shrub suppresses the growth of parthenium in three different stages, claims Dr. Joshi.

"The cassia plant grown alongside the parthenium impairs the germination of seeds by releasing a chemical phenolics, which delays and inhibits the growth of parthenium seeds," he says. This, he calls seed-to-seed fight.

Cassia does not end the fight there, but continues it as it grows faster than parthenium and envelopes a larger area, thereby directly reducing the amount of sunlight available to parthenium, which Dr Joshi terms as physical fight. The plant continues the fight with next generation when it releases its seeds earlier than those of parthenium. "Along with my students, I worked on this project for over a decade and cassia's reliability is tested everywhere. We first introduced cassia in surrounding areas of Hebbal railway station and within a period of two years all we found was green cassia everywhere and parthenium totally gone." I have developed a mechanism to get reliable amounts of seeds of cassia and all the public and government need to do is to take these seeds and throw them where ever parthenium is growing," he said.

Avinash Thombre


Cacophony in the Cities at a Cresendo

Roaring engines, blaring horns, pounding machines, howling music and clamouring people-the only way noise levels in the cities are going is up.
According to studies conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board across many metros, noise levels in the cities are way above the prescribed norms set by the Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1986.

In 1987, the Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act of 1981 was modified to include noise in its definition of pollutants. It defines air pollutants as "any solid, liquid or gaseous substance (including noise) present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment".

Recently the CPCB completed a noise pollution study in the city of Panaji in Goa. Ms Jyoti Kaur, a 19 year old student was part of the group of 20 on whom audio metric tests were conducted. The results showed that after exposure to noise under laboratory conditions, Ms Kaur's hearing threshold (the sound intensity level upto which a given sound can be recognised by her) fell by 10 decibels (dB or decibel is a measure of the intensity level of sound), from what it was before being exposed to noise. After a rest period however, her threshold returned to normal. This was the case with 16 of the 20 people. tested, all experiencing temporary threshold shifts of 10 to 20 decibels. Continuous exposure to high noise levels can, over a period of time, convert temporary threshold shifts to a permanent hearing loss says Mr Khader, who was part of the team conducting the tests.

As part of the EPA, warning levels in industrial commercial, residential and sensitive (silence zones) areas with respect to noise that is permissible for the day, has been set at 75 dB, 65 dB, 55 dB and 50 dB respectively.

Panaji being a quiet city, noise levels were found to be within these limits in all areas, unlike vehicle-infested metros like Delhi or Bangalore.

Using a noise meter, CPCB found that the average energy of noise was 73 dB in Delhi's industrial areas, 71 dB in its commercial areas and 65 dB in the sensitive areas. Residential areas were not studied. In Bangalore, noise levels were at 78 dB, 76 dB, 67 dB and 78 dB in the industrial, commercial, residential and sensitive areas respectively.
The reports on Madras, Mumbai and Calcutta also show noise levels well above permissible limits.

These figures are important when one considers the fact that a 10 dB increase in noise means a ten fold rise in the intensity of sound. (Intensity of sound is the power of sound per unit area. Increasing loudness is a result of an increase in intensity of sound.)
Exposure to everyday noise has been found to cause a permanent hearing loss of 8 to 10 decibels by the age of 70.

According to the WHO, high and persistent levels of noise can not only damage the auditory nerves but also cause high blood pressure, loss of appetite, peptic ulcers, headaches, increased irritability, slowing of reactions, asthma, and lack of sleep.

Noise pollution can be reduced by regulating the volume of traffic, and by designing automobiles and machines that are less noisy.

Planting of trees which absorb noise, and sound proofing of walls are other measures that help reduce noise levels.

Industrial workers need to don safety equipment like ear mufflers. Most workers in industries that provide protective equipment shy away from using them saying that they are uncomfortable, claims Mr. S. Suresh, an environmental engineer at CPCB.

The CPCB has set noise limits for the manufacturing stage of both automobiles and domestic appliance. In Karnataka, the State Pollution Control Board is to have an environment inspector attached to industrial units in order to monitor various aspects of pollution.
The State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) normally advises the concerned state government to take action against offending industries.

Come festival time and the peace even in normally quiet areas is destroyed by the noise of fire crackers and the blaring of music or talks over the public address systems. The CPCS had called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of crackers which have an impulsive or sudden noise of more than 90 dB way back in March 1990. But this ban has gone unheeded.
The use of public address systems needs the prior permission of the police. According to Mr. Devegowda of the Bangalore City Police, any person using a public address system without the permission of the police is liable to be prosecuted. In the case of people using automobiles that do not conform to norms set by consensus between the Regional Transport Office and the traffic police, it is usually possible to prosecute them. These people are normally taken to task when normal horns and engine silencers are modified for louder sounding horns and engines which are not stipulated under the Motor Vehicles Act.

Much still needs to be done to sensitize people to the dangers of noise pollution. Unlike most other types of pollution which people recognize as being harmful to themselves, there is a general lack of awareness of the harmful effects of noise pollution. This has encouraged public indifference to the daily assault on one's sense of hearing.



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