More than the buildings, Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone is known for its tree-lined avenues and gardens. But today it’s a sorry picture of a sublime past. The once beautiful ornate gardens have been replaced with shabbily maintained lawns with some flox and petunias thrown in.
Experts have called for urgent intervention to maintain the garden city character of New Delhi by evolving a proper tree strategy. “The most important heritage that Edwin Lutyens has left behind is the garden character of New Delhi.
Indigenous trees were brought from Agra nursery and planted even before the construction of New Delhi was commenced.The greenwork is responsible for New Delhi’s settling temperature. One can travel on foot from one end to the other under the continuous shade provided by the tree canopies,” says Prof. Masinh M Rana who is a patron of Lutyens Trust set up to protect the great architect’s signature achievement namely New Delhi.
Rana was formerly chief architect with the Government of India and his green projects include Buddha Jayanti park and Shanti Van.
Rana rues that the gardens of New Delhi are being ruined by insensitive handling and poor upkeep in stark contrast to the pains that went into nurturing them almost a century back when water was brought on bullock carts to water the young trees protected by brick tree guards.
“The preparations for Republic Day results in many tree casualties in the Central Vista. The Defence trucks make the lawns barren and parts of the Vista have now been turned into parking lots,” he points out. Rana has suggested that the NDMC and CPWD would be well advised to plant the same species of trees that were chosen for Delhi in a systematic manner so that when the existing trees die, the young trees would replace them in the same symmetry.
Well-known landscape architect Prof. M Shaheer says that the British chose trees like Neem, Jamun and Pilkhan as they retain their leaves most of the year, their flowers are not visible and they are well proportioned and shapely trees that fitted in with British taste and the character of baroque city.
Hence colourful ‘kachnars’ and ‘gulmohars’ were ignored. Shaheer says that the horticulture department ought to carry out a detailed inventory of trees on all the avenues and identify spaces for new trees.
Environmentalist and author of Trees of Delhi Pradip Kishen however has a different take on it. According to him some trees have adapted better while others have developed pathologies due to plummeting groundwater levels and so strategies need to be devised for replacing a few species.
“But the question is who will make the decision and on what basis. The civic authorities are capable of making some terrible mistakes.”
Convenor of the Delhi Chapter of the INTACH, OP Jain has an alternative proposal. He says that horticulture experts (there are quite a few in Delhi) need to be roped in and a blueprint has to be drawn so that New Delhi retains it’s green sheen twenty years down the line.
Urban designer KT Ravindran says that the authorities should also look into the old systems of water the gardens and lawns that were set up by the British.