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New city forests mere statistics

The unofficial figure is close to a lakh, while so far the number has touched around 50,000 on various counts. Avishek G Dastidar reports.

delhi Updated: Jul 29, 2008 00:24 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

Several projects, including Metro railroads, bus corridors, flyovers, widening of roads, upgrading of infrastructure etc, would together rob the city of thousands of age-old trees by the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

The unofficial figure is close to a lakh, while so far the number has touched around 50,000 on various counts. But the Delhi government is neither worried nor willing to acknowledge any loss of greenery because of its unique Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994.

As per the Act, developers have to plant 10 saplings for each tree felled. The process is called compensatory plantation.

The government is developing these compensatory plantation sites into “city forests” and claiming that the city’s greenery is being augmented. But since land for such massive planation drive is not available in the city, such city forests are coming up near the UP and Haryana borders—far away from the city. And there lies the problem.

“When you take away full-grown trees from Greater Kailash and plant a lot of few saplings near faraway Najafgarh, it is not
augmentation of greenery in the true sense of the term, it is mere statistics,” said environmentalist Ravi Agarwal,
convenor of Trees for Delhi, a forum of residents and NGOs to oppose the overdrive of tree felling due to development projects linked with the Commonwealth Games. Last year, a survey by the forum calculated that the greenery in terms of number of full-grown trees in the heart of the city has actually decreased decreased over the years.

“Developers do not view trees as part of the city’s landscape. They think trees are mere embellishment, which can be done away with for the sake of infrastructure projects. Sadly, infrastructure is overriding everything else in city development,” he said.

According to environmentalist Pradip Krishen, author of Trees of Delhi, compensatory plantings are nothing but an eye-wash.

“Who needs a bunch of saplings in return for a full-grown tree? It takes decades for a neighbourhood or the city to start enjoying the environmental gains of a full-grown tree. You cannot compensate for that with a few saplings planted in the outskirts,” he said.

“Trees make the mircro-environment of a city. The greenery helps as a buffer against pollution and has a cooling effect.

Concrete retains heat, and that’s why in the absence of trees temperatures shoot up,” says Prabhakar Rao of NGO Kalpavriksh, which is fighting a legal battle with civic bodies against choking roadside trees with concrete slabs on the pavements. “The ones that have been allowed to remain in the city, too, have been stifled.”

This year, the Delhi government will be developing nine new city forests, in Issapur, Achundi, Qutab Garh, Kakraula—all in the outskirts, around 40 kilometres from the city centres. “No one asks for our permission while taking the trees away.

Residents must have a say in the felling of the trees. We have represented to the government in this matter, but that has not yielded anything,” said Rajiv Kakria, vice-president of GK-I Residents’ Welfare Association.