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Posted at: Sep 8, 2019, 1:09 AM; last updated: Sep 8, 2019, 7:22 AM (IST)

Chandigarh, as green as it gets

Chandigarh usually presents a lush-green view as far as the eye can see. Compared to most other dusty north Indian cities, it seems like a magical contrast — magical because it is not natural but a man-made ‘garden city’
Chandigarh, as green as it gets
Forever: There is a beautiful cycle of changing treescapes round the year so that the city is never without tree cover.

Rajnish Wattas

Chandigarh is famous for Le Corbusier’s architecture and urban planning all over the world. But this is less widely known that it is also, perhaps, world’s largest consciously landscaped city, significant for its planned green spaces and tree plantations. 

Historical backdrop

The original team of American planners assigned the Chandigarh project — later replaced by Corbusier — too, had weaved in a lot of landscape component in their conceptual plan. Many of their seed ideas were later adopted by Corbusier. These include the alignment of the city’s plan towards the mountains, creating an eight-km central linear park called the Leisure Valley, running throughout the city’s fabric from north to south, and of incorporating sector greens running through the heart of each neighbourhood unit. 

Spurred by the keen initiative of Dr M S Randhawa in the greening of the new city, Corbusier undertook the task of systemic tree classification and analysis for possible use. To cut off solar glare, he proposed plantation of trees with evergreen spreading canopies that would commingle at the top to form protective ‘green tunnels’ along the V3 roads running vertically. Avenues running between Sectors 7-8 and between Sectors 8-9 still have beautiful pilkhan trees and kusum trees, respectively, on both sides thus forming a veritable ‘green tunnel’. 

In a conceptual sketch for the ‘Ceremonial Boulevard’ Jan Marg that leads to the Capitol Complex, the first row comprised of small-sized trees, second of taller trees and the third was of the tallest trees, so that a beautiful vista towards the distant hills and profile of the Capitol Complex was created. Alas, this wonderful composition has now disappeared, and the old species have been replaced by new ones, without following the original configuration and concept. 

In Chandigarh’s landscape, there is a beautiful cycle of changing treescapes round the year. The first trees to blossom in early spring are the profusely flowering simbal trees. These are followed by other flowering trees like kachnars and jacarandas and many others with lovely flowers. There is another fascinating phenomenon in spring, when some non-flowering trees shed leaves, followed by sprouting of new, pale green leaves.


Number speak

1,807 Parks developed by municipal authorities

2,52,000New saplings this monsoon

41% Tree cover compared to national average of 24%

100 Major theme gardens in various sectors 


Present scenario

Despite nearly seven decades of Chandigarh’s inception marked by rapid vibrant growth, the overall fabric is still essentially of a city endowed with many green open spaces, parks, gardens and exemplary tree cover. It has emerged as the green, oxygenating counterpoint to the close-by highly polluted and congested national capital of New Delhi. Surveys show that the city enjoys 41 per cent tree cover of its total area — highest in the country — compared to the national average of 24 per cent. 

Also, Chandigarh planted nearly 2,52,000 new saplings this monsoon alone, including trees and shrubs. In spite of being a mere 114-sq km area, the city prides itself on its urban forests, Kansal and Nepli, where nature treks are encouraged. To attract more birds, fruit-bearing trees are being planted in the city gardens, especially in the Botanical Garden. To strengthen ecological diversity around the Sukhna Lake forests, sal trees may be re-planted soon.  These were originally the tree cover there, and were later replaced by kikkar and tali. 

Over the years, a large number of neighbourhood parks have been developed by the Municipal Corporation totalling to 1,807, over and above another 100 major theme gardens in the Leisure valley and other city’s lungs. However, the downside is that while these neighbourhood parks are good for walking and for children to play, these leave hardly any space for sporting activities like a casual game of cricket or football.


City’s eco crusaders

The local residents zealously crusade against any random tree felling or damage to them. Recently, there was a major protest, including a court case, to stop the proposed felling off a large number of trees for building a flyover over the Tribune chowk, forcing the authorities to revise the felling to the bare minimum. There are numerous eco-clubs and tree-lovers groups that spread awareness regarding city’s unique tree heritage and conduct regular tree walks etc. besides organising public lectures and other events promoting awareness. Recently, the Chandigarh Tree Lovers (CTL) and Yuvsatta, with the support of the Forestry Department, documented Chandigarh’s heritage trees and got these duly notified. Also, a crusade by the CTL to get nameplates of city trees installed in public places has got underway. The citizens also participate enthusiastically in various tree plantation drives and garden festivals.


A barren contrast

However, all is not that green as one moves southwards from the low-density plotted developments on the northern tip of the first phase of the city, towards the second and third phases. This contrast is more conspicuous in sectors with mostly midrise apartment housing. Between dense clusters of society flats, there are meagre pockets of greenery for much higher density of people. Though, thanks to city’s layout plan the sector green belts are still inviolable and retained. 

There is a gradual loss of vast heterogeneous species of trees — rich mixes of evergreen and flowering varieties — seen in the older phases of the city. These are now giving way to certain repetitively planted species like chakrassias and alstonias. Also whenever a tree is lost due to termite or decay, it is randomly replaced by another variety, thus, disturbing the beautiful tree vistas visualised originally. Some tree avenues have completely lost their original character. An avenue of imli trees in Sector 26 has vanished giving way to chakrassias now. 

Then there is the ever widening of neighbourhood parking spaces along the inner roads eating up into small pockets of greenery. Mercifully, the menace of putting pavers on every bit of available roadside green verges has now been curtailed. Even, the residents encroach on the green verges developing their own ornamental mini-gardens cutting off roadside trees. 

 There is little co-ordination between the horticulture and the electricity wings of the authorities, as the latter go around lopping off trees’ branches whimsically, often disturbing their structural balance or aesthetic beauty. 

Future concerns

Chandigarh is a small 114-sq km land-locked Union Territory, surrounded by adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana. There is a huge pressure on the city to accommodate the natural growth of its own existing population, compounded further by the huge influx of migrants, seeking better employment or as a coveted retirement destination. Besides these, Chandigarh also has emerged as a major regional hub for commerce, trade and as a gateway to tourism to some neighbouring states. Along with city’s phenomenal growth, the additional burden of its adjoining satellite towns like Mohali, Panchkula, Mullanpur and Zirakpur, blatantly encroaching on its periphery, have further exacerbated environmental stresses. 

According to the Master Plan 2030 projections, the collective growth of core city population and the adjoining satellite towns called the ‘Tricity’ Urban Complex will reach 4.5 million. This should be urgently red-flagged at the national level regarding the country’s future roadmap for its urbanisation.

Or else Chandigarh, the utopian island of greenery, too, will one day become a little dot in the sea of chaotic urbanisation.

City’s eco crusaders

The local residents zealously crusade against any random tree felling or damage to them. Recently, there was a major protest, including a court case, to stop the proposed felling off a large number of trees for building a flyover over the Tribune chowk, forcing the authorities to revise the felling to the bare minimum. There are numerous eco-clubs and tree-lovers groups that spread awareness regarding city’s unique tree heritage and conduct regular tree walks etc. besides organising public lectures and other events promoting awareness. Recently, the Chandigarh Tree Lovers (CTL) and Yuvsatta, with the support of the Forestry Department, documented Chandigarh’s heritage trees and got these duly notified. Also, a crusade by the CTL to get nameplates of city trees installed in public places has got underway. The citizens also participate enthusiastically in various tree plantation drives and garden festivals.

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