Delhi is one of the greenest metropolitan cities of India with a 20% forest cover. But it still falls way short of the 33% greenery prescribed by the national forest policy.
The Capital has often taken its abundant green cover for granted, with permission for cutting trees easy to come by till even a decade ago. For a city like Delhi, which is growing constantly and exponentially, a constant struggle between urbanisation and preserving the forest has become a daily feature.
“Delhi would have become a desert if it did not have a forest department that regulated tree cutting. Land-hungry Delhi has had a hard time finding peace with its greens,” said environment minister Asim Ahmed Khan.
The Aam Aadmi Party government’s target is to increase Delhi’s green cover from 20% to 25% by 2020 — a tall order considering the department has found it tough to get any land for plantation.
But it is not just planting new trees that is a problem. Protecting what the city already has also turned out to be a big issue too. The city’s lungs, the Ridge is under constant threat with more and more encroachments taking a toll.
“Areas in the Ridge that were constructed before the 1996 notification led to a large number of trees being cut down. Their expansion continues. These structures are bang in the middle of southern Ridge, an area everyone agrees we need to protect,” said tree activist Diwan Singh, who has been working for the protection of the green cover in the area.
Even areas that Delhiites love for their green cover are in danger. The Lutyen’s zone with decades-old Jamun, Peepal, Imli and Neem trees may lose this cover as these trees are ageing and have become weak.
“Plans to start planting now to replace the ageing trees have not really caught on yet. But it is extremely important. These trees will soon be gone and there will be nothing to replace them,” said Ravi Agarwal from NGO Toxics Link. He has worked extensively on tree conservation and the Ridge.
“The residents of this city want trees in summers but not in winters. This attitude will have to change,” he said.
The ‘green’ city can’t even take care of the roadside trees it has planted. Despite several orders against concretisation of trees, there are hardly any trees that are given enough space to breathe.
Aditya N Prasad, a lawyer who has waged a constant battle against tree concretization and mauling, has found that court battles go on forever but the attitudes towards trees don’t change. He has filed several suits against government and private agencies cutting or choking trees but has seen little change on the ground.