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The forest department — a year after zeroing down on five species to accord heritage status to one tree from each of them — has failed to do much with the process of identifying the trees.
Apart from this, sources said that there had been no movement on the promise of officials to declare all trees of two-three species as reserve trees to protect and help augment greenery in Delhi, which is under assault from a breakneck pace of infrastructure development.
Between 2011 and 2013, Delhi’s forest cover has gone up by 3.61 sqkm, but tree cover outside forests has gone down by 2 sqkm, a latest forest survey of India report says.
Delhi’s chief conservator of forests AK Shukla said, “The tree heritage project got stuck for certain reasons. We’re on the job; the department will finish the task shortly.”
In 2008-09, The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit organisation, started working with the Delhi government and framed criteria for identification of heritage trees.
“Municipal corporations and other land-owning agencies, which deal with horticulture, had to be taken on board. The government had to act and we had to follow it up, but nothing much happened after that. It’s time we got serious about conserving our natural heritage,” said INTACH member Samar Singh.
Singh, a retired IAS officer and former secretary general, WWF India, cautioned the government should not restrict identification of heritage trees only to a set of species. “You may find a tree worthy of the heritage tag outside the five species. You should accord the tag to trees which are old, grand and have some historical connect, like maybe with an event or a building. Species should not be the sole criterion,” he said.
SD Singh, CEO of Delhi Parks and Garden Society, said that once the trees are identified, they can be used to promote eco tourism and push wider conservation.
Concerned over little progress in the project, civil society grouping Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan has already written to top government authorities, including the Lieutenant Governor, the chief secretary and Delhi Development Authority.
“There are a number of very old trees standing within the campuses of old forts and monuments which deserve a heritage status and special protection measures. There might be few even within the campus of Raj Bhavan as well as the British period buildings including Rashtrapati Bhavan,” Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan’s convener Manoj Misra has written.
“It is well known that the ancient city of Delhi has been making efforts to find a place on the UNESCO’s list of world heritage cities. But heritage is not just non-living monuments (that Delhi is littered with) but also living ones like its ridge, its water bodies (baolis and johads) and the river Yamuna,” he said.