Delhi’s tree helpline — a single window to lodge all complaints regarding any threat to the city’s green cover — has received only 312 calls in the last three years, a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Hindustan Times has revealed.
The department of forests and wildlife has also admitted that in January this year, it received only four calls, with the number dropping to three in February. The figures have come as a surprise for activists who claim that rampant felling, pruning and damage to trees continue unabated in the city.
“Eight complaints a month is a shockingly low rate, given the scale of damage being inflicted upon the green cover here. There are a whole lot of people running from pillar to post to register complaints against the menace. The forest department has not publicised the helpline, which has been defunct for a long time now,” green activist Aditya N Prasad said.
The RTI reply says the helpline (23378600) is supposed to function between 9.30 am and 6 pm on all working days — a claim disputed by many. “As early as March 23 (Friday), I found an old tree in a damaged state near Delhi University’s north campus. I tried calling the helpline at 12.30 pm, but the number was defunct,” Prasad said.
When this reporter called up the helpline around 11.19am on Friday, nobody picked up.“Such a response is shocking when there has been a decline in Delhi’s green cover by .38 sqkm in recent years,” Prasad said. The infrastructure and manpower deputed to take care of the helpline also showed laxity in following up.
The RTI reply revealed that a forest guard Raj Pal Singh, whose job was transferable, has been deputed to take calls made to the helpline.“After a fire incident, the helpline had to be shifted in 2012.
Since then, the facility has not been revived properly. Even when the facility was operational, it was not very effective. A person used to take calls and forward the details to divisions concerned,” admitted a senior forest official. “We have plans to set up a 24x7 tree helpline, which will be outsourced on the lines of a call centre.
We will introduce a voicemail facility - a computer based system that allows users to exchange voice messages in the new helpline,” he added.