Delhi awaits its first-ever tree census

  • Ritam Halder, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 06, 2015 08:09 IST

Ever wondered how many and what types of trees Delhi has? Or how healthy they are?

The Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-2015 said the city had a tree cover of 297.81 sq km in 2013 or 20.08% of the total area of the national Capital.

But we have no idea, other than the satellite images, about their density, variety and health.

The first tree census of Delhi conducted privately by residents of Sarvodaya Enclave in 2011-12 marked the total number of trees, their species and their individual health — whether they had any disease, were infested by pests or were encroached upon.

“We found that the biggest damage to tree body is lopping, especially in winters. The next damage is nailing iron hooks and rods. Termites are the most common natural pests. The idea was to give an identity to the existing trees and take care of them. We just can’t afford to drive out the trees to make way for parking,” activist Padmavati Dwivedi, who led the drive, said.

In Delhi, most tree trunks are surrounded by concrete, making the foundations weak as there is no space for water and air to percolate.

The roots of such trees are destroyed because they get little space to grow and hold the tree.

No wonder, trees fall like cards during rain and in storms.

“The Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994, had provisions for penal action for those who trap trees in concrete. In 2000, the Union government issued rules for de-choking trees, stating that an area of 6X6 feet around each tree should be left vacant while concretising pavements. The Delhi high court in 2007 and 2009, and even the NGT in 2013, has passed similar orders to free trees from their trappings while hearing a petition filed by activist Aditya N Prasad. But the story remains the same,” she said.

Preeti Bharadwaj, who conducted the tree census in Gulmohar Park along with the local RWA in 2012-13, pointed to the misery of trees because of concrete pavements.
“Over 700 out of the total 1,100 trees do not have enough open soil around it to breathe and thrive; 265 trees are completely choked because of concretisation,” she said.

“In all, 94 trees had some objects like nails, tree guards, rods, barriers, iron hooks, etc., 241 trees had been lopped, which shows how careless and unsympathetic we can be towards a living entity that cannot voice itself,” Bharadwaj said.

Another important factor, according to experts, is making sure if a particular tree is suitable for that a particular corner of the city.

Author of Trees of Delhi Pradip Krishen said the city was a mosaic of micro-habitats and it was important to try and find out which part of the mosaic is your yard or garden or locality or farm.

“What’s important is whether a tree is ‘suitable’ or not, and in a city like Delhi with a long dry season, ‘suitability’ means: a tree that is not too thirsty (requiring too much water in the dry season) and one that is adapted to Delhi’s climate and to the particular soil where it’s planted. So a tree that’s ‘suitable’ to Lodi Gardens may not be suitable for the dry, stoney Central Ridge or to the moist, clayey banks of the Yamuna,” Krishen said.

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