Pearl Jain is lost in thought as he sits under a peepal tree. “If someone cuts these trees some day, it will be like losing a loved one again,” says the 45-year-old account consultant says as he leisurely moves around in the 25-acre Smriti Vatika in south Delhi.
Jain’s worst fears may just come true. Referring to documents accessed under the Right to Information Act (RTI), local residents claim the Union urban development ministry plans to allow a fuel station on a part of the green belt.
The lush green area is not any other garden where people come to a jog and spend leisure time. This a place where people from several colonies such as Moti Bagh, Vasant Vihar and Satya Niketan, and even from other states, come to plant saplings in memory of their loved ones.
The Delhi government charges a nominal R1,150 from each of the interested residents and maintains the saplings.
Residents are now worried. “We have done a survey. Many of these commemorative trees will go,” said Dr Govind Singh of NGO Delhi Greens.
A resident of Satya Niketan, Jain said, “My father died in 2006. I planted a peepal tree sapling in his memory. Four years later, when my mother passed away, I came back to plant a second peepal sapling in her memory. Both trees have grown up now. I cannot let anyone cut them.”
The Delhi government was building a waste water treatment plant on the plot so that sewage water from nearby colonies could be treated to irrigate the trees. “Construction has temporarily been halted following pressure from the Centre,” said a Delhi government official.
“We have spent nearly Rs. 4.6 lakh only on a survey of the site and the drawing of the treatment project. This will be a huge waste of public money,” he added.
A group of other residents led by LR Gupta, president of the Satya Niketan Resident Welfare Association, has requested the urban development ministry not to use the land for commercial purposes.
“These trees are memories of someone’s children, someone’s parents. They should not be felled,” he said.
Atul Kumar Garg, a local resident, said, “From Srinivaspuri to Majnu Ka Tila on Ring Road, there is not a single petrol station. Why target this green belt then?”
MLA Karan Singh Tanwar has also warned the Centre that commercial use of the land will be playing with the sentiments of thousands of people.