Fighting Climate Change: How Hyderabad is Good Green

Status: 17.11.2022 00:33

Hyderabad is one of the fastest growing cities in India. And yet, Hyderabad celebrates itself as a green metropolis and receives awards for it. How does that go together?

By Sibylle Light, ARD Studio New Delhi

Priyanka Varghese was not happy when she had to leave her native Kerala in southern India. The official was transferred to the ten million metropolis of Hyderabad in Telangana state further north. You would have to take over a gigantic environmental project. Their mission: to help the province move forward ecologically in the interior.

She was skeptical at first, she reports: “How can that be done? How do I turn a dry piece of earth into a green oasis?” Varghese took on the project anyway.

For the past eight years, she has spearheaded what she claims is the third largest reforestation program in the world. Under her leadership, 2.7 billion tree seedlings were planted in the state. The woman with the special order is supposed to involve 30 government departments in Telangana and convince 12,800 decentralized administrative units.

The municipalities had to designate free areas for planting. Nurseries handed out free tree seedlings. A very simple principle:

If you go to the temple, church or mosque to pray, you will be given a tree seedling to plant. If you fill your propane gas bottle for the kitchen, a plant is included. Pupils plant trees in their school,” Varghese describes the process.

Tiresome process of persuasion

Nevertheless, Varghese had to contend with a headwind. “Once you’re convinced of the benefits, the others are far from being so,” she says. Only 30 percent of the tree seedlings survived the first years of the project.

The biggest challenge is “inspiring people to take care of the trees in the long run. If they don’t participate, the whole project won’t work.”

The state ultimately held local governments responsible. They have to make sure that 85 percent of the tree seedlings survive or they have to pay a fine. The equivalent of a fine of more than 600 euros was determined for felling a tree and 67 euros for tearing off a branch.

Hyderabad prides itself on its greenery, but the city also knows that it needs to be taken care of.

Image: ARD New Delhi

Industry and citizens must participate

Telangana and the central government in New Delhi are making a budget available for the reforestation of the 2.7 billion trees. Industrial companies must participate. This year, Telangana introduced an eco-tax for citizens to cover the costs of further planting.

Since 2015, the state’s forested area has increased from 24 to 33 percent, officials said. Thousands of trees were planted in abandoned, industrial and residential areas. Streets – also with several floors – were planted, parks were expanded and vertical gardens were created.

The consequences are being felt in Hyderabad. According to the University of Telangana, the groundwater level has risen by 40 percent. And fine dust pollution decreased in Hyderabad. The ten million dollar metropolis is one of the fastest growing megacities in India.

The new trees grow in nurseries – eventually their number should run into the billions.

Image: ARD New Delhi

A prize and criticism

For its efforts, Hyderabad was awarded the World Green City Award 2022 in October in the “Green Living for Economic Recovery and Inclusive Growth” category in October. But the project is not without controversy.

Vandana Shiva, one of India’s best-known environmentalists, notes that reforestation projects of this magnitude “always result in conflict with India’s indigenous people.” There have already been several protests by the Adivasi. The natives resist reforestation in their territory.

Authorities have used force to try to plant the land, an Adivasi spokesman said. “Reforestation should also be explored for environmental sustainability and multi-functionality,” says environmental activist Shiva.

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