11 km from New Seelampur to Shiv Vihar is Delhi’s longest stretch bereft of trees
If you walk through the congested lanes between New Seelampur and Shiv Vihar in north-east Delhi, a stretch spanning 11km, you will pass two trees, findings of a geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing analyst with World Resources Institute (WRI) show.
Raj Bhagat Palanichamy, a Bengaluru-based GIS and remote sensing analyst with WRI, highlighted Delhi’s problem of inconsistent plantation, pointing out that the city’s tree cover is largely concentrated in areas around New Delhi, Delhi Cantonment and parts of south Delhi while the other areas are being developed as “concrete wastelands”.
Palanichamy charted out routes where the least number of trees would be found. The longest stretch, about 11km, was in north-east Delhi. The route between New Seelampur and Shiv Vihar, which weaves through congested lanes, only has two trees.
“This is the longest continuous stretch to have the least number of trees, but there are over a dozen other stretches, each spanning between 6 and 8km, where you would find negligible green cover. Delhi is becoming one of the world’s biggest concrete wastelands and this requires urgent attention from the government and civic agencies,” Palanichamy said.
West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar was a close second when it comes to barrenness, with a vast expanse taken over by unauthorised constructions, leaving little space for trees.
These observations were in line with Delhi forest department’s forest data, which shows that east Delhi has only 3.28 square kilometres (sqkm) of a total 64 sqkm under tree cover.
North-east Delhi closely follows with only 3.97 sqkm of a total 60 sqkm under tree cover, the lowest across the national capital. New Delhi has 17.25 sqkm of its total 35 sqkm under tree cover and south Delhi has 82.14 sqkm of a total of 250 sqkm under tree cover.
“Most areas outside the jurisdiction of the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Cantonment Board are bereft of trees. These areas are more densely populated and no Indian city could compare to this scale (lacking green spaces over several kilometres),” he said.
Several environment experts and urban planners have agreed that this complete absence of green cover in many parts is problematic. They said these areas were mostly unauthorised neighbourhoods, where nearly 50% of the city’s population lives.
“ In such areas, space is a luxury. The roads are narrow; builders leave minimum space for passage and they go vertical to accommodate more people. Trees are never on people’s agenda here. The few that survive are also in a pitiable condition -- you often find some growing through walls or from between two buildings,” Sumona Bhattacharya, environment lawyer and activist, said.
CR Babu, professor emeritus and head of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) at Delhi University, said this inconsistent division of green spaces across the city is also because of the provision of “compensatory tree plantation”, which gives construction agencies the leverage to indiscriminately cut fully grown trees from one part and plant saplings in another part.
This, he says, over a period of time, changes the ecological make of the city.
“For any development project, agencies cut trees in their thousands and plant saplings in another area. If you allow this to continue, then over the years the green cover in some areas will become sparse. There needs to be a holistic strategy to maintain green cover and concentrate tree plantations in areas where there are no trees,” Babu said.