Transplanting a tree is a science. You are literally taking life out from a spot where it was meant to blossom to elsewhere where it may or may not survive.
To this extent, the Public Works Department’s (PWD) transplantation exercise in the city has been ‘brazen’ and almost cruel. Almost 86% of the transplanted trees have been left to die a slow, agonizing death, the forest department has informed the National Green Tribunal.
The revelation points to a bigger crisis — civic bodies and government construction agencies in Delhi have neither the technical know-how nor the wherewithal to execute effective tree relocation. While there have been several court orders regarding tree relocation recently, in the absence of proper and strict guidelines, trees are simply being uprooted and shoved in pits at fresh locations.
Transplantation is a sensitive task and needs focus on the tree’s age, size, roots, canopy and other factors such as soil composition and moisture.
“We don’t have the expertise or the equipment to transplant trees with deeper roots. If you cut the roots, trees are bound to die,” said renowned conservationist Pradip Krishen.
In its report on trees relocated to build an elevated road corridor in west Delhi, the forest department has said that the PWD has made a brazen effort to transplant trees, [but] with limited success. The report says that instead of using specialized equipment, it has used cranes and earth-moving JCB machines for digging and lifting trees with limited roots.
The changes in the soil and its effects on the trees were not considered during the translocation away from the construction sites. The report says that of the 99 trees transplanted, 14 are surviving with leaves sprouting from only a few branches.
The indictment is critical because the NGT wants more trees to be transplanted, and not cut. On September 10, NGT said, “As per a report it is not necessary to cut the aged trees and they can be transplanted by ensuring soil amendment and moisture content. Forest department will conduct a survey and submit a report. PWD will not cut any more trees.” Of the 1,400-odd trees coming in the way of the project, only about 200 are left.
The report submitted to NGT on September 15 after a team of top forest and PWD officials inspected the site says there are boundless possibilities for successful transplantation and in “meeting development needs, ecological concerns need to be addressed.” The NGT will hear the matter next on September 22.
Reacting to the report, a PWD official said, “The forest department is part of the process. Are they saying they did not supervise the transplantation process, a task assigned to them by NGT.” The forest department never spoke of transplantation till NGT intervened, he said.
“Transplantation of trees was not thought of when tree-protection statutes were framed in the 1990s but notifications or government orders that permit cutting of trees do mention it. We will make sure the task is carried out in a proper way,” said a senior government official.