Delhi's forest department has ducked a query on whether it will ensure adherence to the standard practice of planting 10 saplings for each tree felled for the third phase expansion of the Metro.
In response to a right-to-information (RTI) application filed by Hindustan Times, the department has said that for every tree to be cut, "there should be 10 saplings planted".
Despite being specifically asked as to how many saplings will be planted, the use of "should be" (which only tells what the rule has been) and not "will be" (which would have clarified what would happen now) in the answer has alarmed environmentalists.
The departure, as being dubbed by many, has come after a request from the Centre to reduce the number from 10 to three or four.
"Such a huge concession will massively reduce Delhi's green cover, which has come down by 0.38 sqkm as per the latest forest survey report, for a long time. Ideally we should not tinker with the 1:10 ratio. But we don't know what will happen," admitted an official.
And it's not about saplings alone. "The Centre needs to part with 40,000 hectares of non-forest land where the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation will fund plantation to compensate the green loss. A three-sapling norm would help the Centre be able to hold on to 28,000 hectares of land which should otherwise go to boost greenery in the Capital," he explained.
"It is an irreversible loss. It takes years for a plant to give the benefit of a full grown tree. We all know a number of saplings don't survive because of lack of care," said tree activist Padmavati Dwivedi.
In a letter dated December 24, Union urban development minister Kamal Nath has requested the Delhi government to allow the concession. "… DMRC has proposed to reduce the number of trees needed to planted for every tree felled from 10 to 3/4, as seen in other states such as Goa, in view of non-availability of land in Delhi," the letter reads.
"I will be grateful if you could direct your officials to expedite tree cutting permission and reduce the number of trees needed be planted so that the Phase III could be completed expeditiously," he has asked chief minister Sheila Dikshit.