This story by me was first published in the IIJNM publication The Observer, on Jan 21, 2016. The Observer is the work of print journalism students who report exclusive news stories from Bangalore and the state of Karnataka.
MLA assures action; BBMP official complains of poor staffing
With illegal ads pinned hard into their trunks using staplers, trees outside the office of the state forest “conservator” are no different from thousands of others across the city.
Yellow and white pamphlets pinned on half a dozen trees outside Aranya Bhavan want you to join spoken English classes, as do other similar “tree ads” across the city. Some advertise jobs for youngsters, while some offer to help you pass college even if you failed school.
As Bangalore continues to lose its tree cover, there are those who come out every morning armed with staplers and ad posters, looking for trees in posh localities. When they find one, they staple their pamphlets into the tree trunk and move on to the next tree.
Then there are those, who go out every morning, looking for these ads. When they find one, they take their pliers out and take the pins and nails out.
Sometimes, they take out their phone and make calls to the advertiser – advertisers who break the law, but can still afford to dare putting their contact details on their pamphlets.
“Some of them are old ads, and the numbers don’t work anymore,” says “tree warrior” Nikhil Bhagavatalu.
Ads and posters stapled on tree trunks are a common sight in many Bengaluru localities. When called, a spokesperson for one advertiser admitted that he knows such ads are illegal. He said: “We received a call from BBMP around a month back. We told them we are not going to repeat this again. We have instructed our marketing guy to remove the posters.”
The ads are still there, stapler pins holding them in place.
In a change.org petition, city resident Supraja Suresh claimed that vendors who put their advertisements do this before 7am every day, before the police become active. Each vendor puts up 800 such posters using pins on an average day, claims the 2013 petition.
Bhagavatalu says: “When I travel from BTM Layout to Majestic, each tree I see has posters pinned on them. Not one pin, there are thousands of pins. In other countries, if you put just one pin on a tree, you will be fined badly, but not in India.”
Bhagavatalu, 28, is a former IT employee, and is furious. He spends his free time taking pins off trees in BTM Layout.
“It has now become a pastime for me. Still when I go to bed, it keeps poking me that I have not done enough for this. We do things for needy people, but who will take care of the trees? Finally trees will die down.
“There are some other people also who remove these ads. One person puts them; someone else has to go on removing them.”
Ravi Keerthi, another city resident, said: “No civic authorities have taken any action. A forest officer said he will make sure those ads will be removed and new ones will not be allowed, but they didn’t take any action. I have tried calling forest officer to get updated regarding this, but no luck.”
According to him, this practice is widespread in BTM Layout, Whitefield and ITPL Road.
The laws are in place. The Karnataka Open Places (Prevention of Disfigurement) Act, 1981 says that such an act should be punishable with a maximum of six-month imprisonment or a fine of Rs.1000. The BBMP’s advertisement bye-laws also cover this under miscellaneous norms, prohibiting any advertisement “stuck, nailed, tied, attached, fixed in any manner on any tree in the city of Bangalore.”
However, activists claim that there are thousands of such trees in the city which are regularly defaced by advertisers.
Sathyanarayan is a BBMP tree officer in the north of the city. He says, “In BBMP, we have very few forest officers, hardly nine members for 825 sq km. We can’t take action on this alone and we need help from the public to solve this problem.”
He says that some advertisers are fined, but he feels that the BBMP needs at least 30 more members in the forest department.
The MLA in Bhagavatalu’s constituency, BTM Layout, MLA Ramalinga Reddy, assured The Observer that he will instruct his engineers to get pins removed from trees in his area.
He said: “It is not only in my area, this situation is in entire Bangalore. People should realize we should not put anything like that on trees. Making a law is easy, but only with cooperation of the public, we can implement this.”
He said there are laws, but “people should understand”.
“I’ll request my people not to do anything like this, and I’ll instruct all my engineers to remove all those advertisements on trees.”
But does it really harm a tree?
Using nails and pins to put ads on trees makes them prone to insect attack, according to scientists at Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST).
T.S. Rathore from the institute said: “Generally, bacteria gets entry into the plant body through any wound opening. So when the tree is exposed to the outside through openings made by nails and pins, chances of attack of pathogenic bacteria increase.”
Although growth is not hampered directly, nails and pins cause an indirect attack on the plant through insects and fungi, he said.
R. Sundararaja, entomologist, said: “Most borers (stem-feeding insects) need to make small cracks to lay eggs. When we make a hole, they are able to comfortably lay their eggs in the tree. Hence, the chances of the larva successfully entering the wood go up.”
Even if gum is used to stick the advertisement, trees would still face stress.
Deepa ES, a biotechnology postgraduate, said: “Depending on the tree’s size, health and species and the spacing of the punctures, usually the presence of ten holes could cause enough structural and health problems to kill the tree. Also, when the nail corrodes, dissolved metals may poison the tree.”
“The trees are unable to express it, but they also face the stress,” said Sundararaja.