Despite several awareness campaigns and court orders against violation of environmental norms, south Delhi’s green wealth has been deteriorating. Numerous trees are being mindlessly chopped off in the name of routine pruning. In most cases, the executor is a government agency. Green activists attribute this blatant violation of rules to unscientific ways of pruning and lack of monitoring by experts. HT South Delhi has been reporting about illegal and improper pruning of trees following complaints by residents. Conservationists allege that the branches cut by the contractors hired by the civic agency are sold to make money.
Padmavati Dwivedi, who conducted the first tree census of the Capital in a residential colony, said indiscriminate pruning has been taking place across the city. “I’ve been getting calls and messages from residents in areas like Sheikh Sarai, Vasant Kunj, Masjid Moth, Kalkaji, Saket and New Friends Colony among others,” she said.
In most cases, instead of light pruning entire branches are cut while in some cases there have also been reports of trees being cut at the trunk. Rohit Kohli, a resident of Kalkaji, said, “Indiscriminate cutting of trees is done on the pretext of pruning in Kalkaji. In the past three years more than 30 trees have been damaged. This month also a tree’s branches were chopped off. When we objected, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) staff fled from the scene. They later alleged that we stopped them from doing their job. How can we allow them to cut trees when they are supposed to prune,” he said.
Environmentalists say that replacing fully grown trees with tiny saplings with only a handful of leaves is not a logical solution. Every year thousands of trees which support biodiversity and keep temperature in control are felled to facilitate the construction of the Delhi Metro corridors, elevated roads and other infrastructure projects. Plantation shortfall worsens the impact of the existing air pollution besided leading to reduction in ground water recharge. A recent World Health Organisation report said that Delhiities are breathing the most toxic air in the world.
Nirupama, a resident of Sheikh Sarai, said, “I saw four trucks carrying away wood after the branches were chopped off. Is this pruning? It is obvious that trees are being butchered to be sold in the market. The government has introduced odd-even schemes restricting number of vehicles on the road to curb pollution. However, it seems that it is neglecting this grave issue.”
A senior official of SDMC’s horticulture department said tree prunning is done with the permission of the forest department. “In several cases residents are at loggerheads with the department. There is always one faction that wants trees to be pruned and another section that doesn’t want it to happen. In such cases if the forest department approves pruning of trees, another section will allege that SDMC is cutting trees illegally.”
He, however, said that in some cases where SDMC gives contract to the third party (private party) to cut branches because it does not have expertise in it, the private players cut more than what it is needed out of greed.
Horticulturists say that the forest department should form a team that surveys the area before any pruning is done and earmark how much pruning has to be done and where. “Presently, they follow a standard procedure. Pruning has to be done on case to case basis to avoid chances of error,” he added.
At least five trees were chopped down in block B and C of New Friends Colony on the pretext of pruning. The residents of the area said that South Delhi Municipal Corporation began the exercise, allegedly in violation of orders of light pruning given by the forest department. Residents termed it saddening that trees have been mutilated in the residential colony which is greenest.
Retired Delhi High Court judge, SN Dhingra, had complained that trees were cut from the top which was in direct violation of the Forest Act. SDMC officials in their defence said that residents had taken permission from the forest department for light trimming only, but the residents wanted heavy pruning which the workers refused. He said that trees might have been chopped by workers privately hired by the residents.
In some areas of south Delhi, one can see that branches that are drooping. Despite repeated requests, no action taken. Jangpura Extension Welfare Association’s president, Kapil Kakar, said, “We have been requesting the SDMC officials for past two years, but nothing has happened. However, there have been cases of trees being cut on the pretext of pruning.”
A full grown green tree was cut in C block recently. In Sarvodaya Enclave, too, residents complain that those trees that need stay as they are while trees that are healthy are being cut. The residents of Sarita Vihar and Safdarjung Development Area share the same story. A senior official of the forest department said since the pruning is done by MCD, they should ensure that rules are followed. “The residents can always approach us and we will take action.”
Residents or civic bodies can approach the forest department for pruning the trees if it is obstructing the sunlight, had titled precariously or if it is coming in the way of developmental projects like road, flyover etc or prosing threat to life. The forest department authorises civic bodies to prune the trees under the supervision of horticulture experts.
The horticulture department of SDMC does the pruning work or a contractor engaged by the civic body. It also auctions the sites which mean a private company bids for the remains of the trees that would be cut. Private companies in nexus with the horticulture staff cut the branches to extract as much wood as possible, alleges Inder Kohli, a resident of Kalkaji.
The forest department gives instructions for light or heavy pruning up to a certain length but it should not damage the tree. But in several cases, the tree are permanently damaged so that it gets dry and can be cut later.