For want of tree census, Delhi residents branch out, hit streets | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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For want of tree census, Delhi residents branch out, hit streets

Aug 04, 2022 12:50 PM IST

The census is expected to continue for the next two to three months. Though detailed findings are awaited, preliminary assessment of the data shows that more than half of the trees recorded so far are either damaged, have concrete around their base or have diseases or are infested by termites.

Soon after finishing her day’s classes, Ananya Singh, a first-year BSc student at the Meerabai Institute of Technology in Maharani Bagh quickly picks up a pen and paper, along with a measuring tape before heading out to the nearby New Friends Colony (NFC), where she, along with five other volunteers split up and go down different lanes, noting down each tree they spot in the neighbourhood.

For want of tree census, Delhi residents branch out, hit streets PREMIUM
For want of tree census, Delhi residents branch out, hit streets

Singh is a volunteer for New Delhi Nature Society (NDNS), an NGO, which is carrying out a tree census in the colony. The exercise began last month, and so far the volunteers have counted more than 200 trees in the neighbourhood.

The census is expected to continue for the next two to three months. Though detailed findings are awaited, preliminary assessment of the data shows that more than half of the trees recorded so far are either damaged, have concrete around their base or have diseases or are infested by termites.

Verhaen Khanna, founder of the NGO, said the census initially began in March, 2020, but it was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have resumed last month and around 200 trees have been covered so far. The volunteers work around 1-2 hours, twice or thrice a week with each session covering roughly 30 trees. Other than noting down the tree species, we are measuring their height by comparing it with a nearby building. The girth is measured by tape and we are also recording the condition of the tree – for instance if it has a termite infestation, if it is damaged and what is the soil space around the tree,” he said.

Khanna added that the aim of the census is to attract the attention of the forest and wildlife department towards the condition of the trees in the neighbourhood, and get corrective measures initiated.

“Even last year, the forest department was shown concretised trees in the neighbourhood but no action was taken. If 10 volunteers can conduct a census on their own, the forest department too can involve 10 personnel who can spend more time than these students. They also have the equipment and expertise, so each neighbourhood can be covered in 1-2 months,” he added.

Singh, who joined the NGO as a volunteer in May, said remarks such as the presence of a beehive or a bird’s nest on the tree are also highlighted when taking down details of each tree. She said it takes at least 5 minutes to record details of each tree. “The goal is to register as many details of the tree as possible, landmarks around it, and assigning a number to it for future reference,” she said.

Delhi has not seen a tree census for over two decades now, with the forest and wildlife department citing staff shortage as the impediment. In an RTI reply, Delhi-based researcher Kanchi Kohli was informed in 2020 that Delhi had no official record of trees in the city, and no tree census had been carried out between the period 2000-2020.

A senior forest department official, who asked not to be named, said a tree census requires considerable manpower and time. He said the department is engaged mostly in meeting plantation targets for the year. “There has been staff shortage in each division and one would require almost the entire staff to be deployed on the ground to count trees. This makes it unfeasible as then there would be no staff to attend to other works,” the official said.

The Delhi government did not respond to queries on whether a tree census has been planned for the capital or not.

Citizens-driven initiatives

Delhi’s first full-fledged citizen-led tree census was carried out in south Delhi’s Sarvodaya Enclave in 2011, led by tree activist and local resident Padmavati Dwivedi, along with 20 other volunteers from the neighbourhood.

The census took a year to finish, with the group counting 1,112 trees, of which 394 were found suffering from lopping (tilting to one side), 75 had been choked by tree guards or nails, 293 or 41% of the colony’s trees were completely strangled by concrete around their base, and only 172 had two feet of soil space around them. Among the total counted trees, 722 trees were along the roads, around 300 were in parks and another 100 were found to be inside buildings. During the exercise, each tree was marked with a crayon, and volunteers noted its location, address and health.

A similar census at Gulmohar Park, carried out a year later, found 700 of the total 1,100 trees in the neighbourhood did not have enough soil around them to allow it to breathe and absorb nutrition. According to experts, concretisation leads to trees falling more frequently over time, since the roots are unable to bear the burden of the tree which has grown to a significant height over the years.

Dwivedi carried out another census of the same neighbourhood in 2016-17, results of which were released in 2019, finding 77 of the trees counted last time had gone ‘missing’, presumably felled by people or damaged during a thunderstorm. Later, it was found that a total of 143 trees went missing from the area, prompting the Delhi high court to order on October 11, 2021, directing the forest department to carry out an inspection of the neighbourhood, based on the fresh census.

Dwivedi said concretisation is leading to several healthy trees becoming weak and fall down during strong winds, while some are cut illegally. “At the same time, one is seeing a shift from native species to exotic and ornamental species such as Calliandra, Champa, Boguianvillea, Agave, Yellow oleander and Royal Palms being grown more since people are unaware of species that are ideal for Delhi’s soil and weather,” she said.

Concretisation was again a key finding in a tree census initiated by locals in Greater Kailash Enclave-2 in 2016 – a quaint colony of around 750 houses between GK-3 and the Savitri Cinema complex. The census found that roughly 60% of the trees had cement around their base and 45% had less than 1 feet of soil space around the base of the tree.

Vallari Sheel, who initiated a similar census in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar in 2016, found nearly 70% to 80% of the trees were ‘unhealthy’ -- either concretised, damaged, lopping to one side or diseased. The census took her a year to complete and involved participation of around 25 volunteers – all local residents. The census found that of the 4,993 trees identified in the neighbourhood, 3,859 were heavily concretised.

“Over 70% of the trees were either concretised or had some form of damage through wires, nails or had termites and that is a very high figure for each neighbourhood. Until a citywide census is carried out, authorities cannot take corrective action for each area,” said Sheel.

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