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Sarvodaya Enclave lost 143 trees in 7 years, Delhi forest dept finds

Jan 15, 2022 07:04 PM IST

The inspection was carried out using a combination of satellite imagery and a physical re-census, following orders issued by the Delhi high court on October 11 last year, asking the forest and wildlife department to take action within six weeks’ time

An inspection by the state’s forest and wildlife department in south Delhi’s Sarvodaya Enclave has found that 143 trees went ‘missing’ between 2012 and 2019, nearly double the originally estimated figure of 77 trees that locals and activists cited after a tree census over the two years.

HT Image

The inspection was carried out using a combination of satellite imagery and a physical re-census, following orders issued by the Delhi high court on October 11 last year, asking the forest and wildlife department to take action within six weeks’ time.

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The inspection report found that the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and Public Works Department (PWD) as the land-owning and maintenance agencies responsible for the areas the trees went missing from.

While the forest department has in its inspection report recommended a fine of 1 lakh per tree for SDMC and PWD for each tree that either went missing or was illegally felled in their jurisdiction, along with being made to plant 10 saplings for each tree, the Delhi high court will take a final decision in the matter on January 19.

Amit Anand, the deputy conservator of forests (south), who was part of the inspection process, said field sheets for the 2012 and 2019 censuses were acquired from the Compassionate Living NGO, which was involved in the original count, as per court orders. HT has seen a copy of the inspection report.

According to the 2012 census, Sarvodaya Enclave had 787 trees, with the figure dropping to 731 trees in 2019, despite 21 new trees being planted. The field sheets had information on each street of the neighbourhood, along with characteristics of the trees, including the species, girth, location, height, health, as well as ground and soil conditions.

“The field staff of the south forest division verified the field sheets of the 2012 census report by conducting a physical re-census on the ground and also using satellite imagery to aid in the process. The field sheets of both censuses [2012 and 2019] were acquired from the aforesaid trust. The ground verification revealed that instead of the earlier number of 77 trees allegedly missing/alleged felled as per a complaint dated December 8, 2020, 143 trees were found to be missing on site,” said the inspection report, which found 94 missing trees on land under the South Delhi civic body, and 32 trees under PWD’s jurisdiction. The remaining were part of private properties.

The species of missing trees include Gular, Amaltas, Shahtoot, Ashok, Gulmohar, Peepal, Harsingar, Belpatra, Champa and Kadi patta species.

The HC last year ordered the South Delhi municipal body to free trees in Vasant Vihar of concrete. HT in December 2020 reported that of the 4,993 trees on the streets of Vasant Vihar, 3,859 were heavily concretised. A tree census conducted by local residents showed over 450 trees had nails, tree guards, barbed wires in or around them, 764 trees were lopped off and at least 793 trees were infested with termites.

The report also said that during the first hearing in the high court on December 9 last year, SDMC and PWD failed to submit affidavits regarding the trees going missing, after which each agency was given an additional seven days to submit the details.

Separate notices were again issued to the horticulture directors of SDMC and PWD on December 24, with the list of missing trees. However, in his report, Anand said neither of the agencies was able to justify the trees going missing.

The report said that on a hearing on December 30, the PWD officer appearing for the department was ‘completely unaware’ of the missing trees and was given 15 days to submit a list of all civil work carried out in the areas the trees went missing. Failing to do this, the Delhi high court said, will result in a fine of 1 lakh per tree, along with directions to plant 10 trees for each one missing.

The Delhi high court will hold a final hearing in the matter on January 19.

Similarly for the SDMC, a submission made before the forest and wildlife department said that between 2011 and 2019, the civic agency received 28 calls regarding trees that were impacted by or had fallen due to the rain. Of these, three were marked as ‘dangerous’ trees. The forest department in its report said no permission was sought to fell the three dangerous trees, which is another violation under the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994.

The inspection report states the civic body also does not know the present status of these trees.

During this period, the SDMC also received 13 letters, seeking permission to cut or prune trees, but the report says the south corporation is yet to furnish details about the status of the trees. A similar fine of 1 lakh per tree has been recommended.

“It is needless to remind the concerned officials of the SDMC that in case no specific information is submitted on duly sworn affidavit containing their submission with regard to the list of missing/illegally felled trees, it will be presumed that the SDMC that the SDMC has no submission to make and the matter would proceed in accordance with the law. Further, a fine of 1 lakh per tree shall be imposed, along with a direction to plant 10 trees for each missing/illegally felled tree,” the order states.

Bhavreen Kandhari, an environmental activist, who filed the initial complaint with the forest and wildlife department in December, 2020 and a subsequent complaint in the Delhi high court, says the 143 trees going missing is a figure linked to just one Delhi neighbourhood, with similar problems occurring across the entire city. “Trees are going missing and only when public citizens and acting and carrying out a census on their own, are we finding about the problem. This also shows how satellite imagery can be used to find out about missing trees,” says Kandhari.

Padmavati Dwivedi, an activist who carried out the original 2012 and the subsequent 2019 tree censuses in the neighbourhood, said even more trees may have been lost in the years after the second census.

“The second census began in 2016 and we were able to finish it by the end of 2017. By the time this census report came out in 2018 and 2019, we still had relatively older data. If we factor in the years following the second census and carry out a third census now, we will find even more trees would have vanished.” she said.

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