80% street trees in Vasant Vihar concretised
While south Delhi’s upscale neighbourhood of Vasant Vihar may seem to have preserved its green cover, a tree census conducted by its residents showed that of the total 4,993 trees on its streets, 3,859 trees were heavily concretised.
The census also showed that over 450 trees had nails, tree guards, barbed wires etc. in or around them, 764 trees were lopped off and at least 793 trees were infested with termites.
Vallari Sheel, an environmental scientist and urban ecologist, who spearheaded the tree census in Vasant Vihar, said that she was encouraged to conduct this elaborate survey after a few trees went missing overnight from the plot near her house, where a new building was being constructed a few years ago.
“The idea behind conducting this survey was to provide data to the neighbourhood and the authorities. Unless there is a record of trees, we will never be able to know how many are felled discreetly,” Sheel said.
While highlighting the condition of trees in the neighbourhood, Sheel said that while the loss of trees due to construction and encroachment was an issue, over 80% of the street trees here were victims of heavy concretisation.
She said trees that were located outside people’s houses were the worst-affected.
Most of them were choked with concrete and tiles, leaving no space for their roots to breathe or absorb water and nutrients, she added.
In this census, Sheel and her team surveyed only street trees and not those planted in parks and inside houses.
Hindustan Times visited the neighbourhood on Tuesday, and found that several residents had cemented the soil around the trees outside their gates to make driveways and guardrooms. Many had also constricted trees with cemented platforms (chabootras), potted plants, garbage piles and even barbed wires, violating National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) 2013 ban on the concretisation of the base of trees.
HT also found that many trees had been lopped off and their branches cut off in the name of pruning.
In 2013, the NGT had not just banned the concretisation of the base of trees within a radius of one metre but had even asked the authorities not to dig the road within one metre of a tree.
Environmentalists working to remove this heavy concretisation around trees in the neighbourhood said South Delhi Municipal Council (SDMC) and the Public Works Department (PWD) are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of trees in Vasant Vihar.
However, while officials have removed concrete to make space for soil around trees located on walkways and public spaces, they have failed to remove encroachments from outside people’s houses.
Environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari filed a complaint with the SDMC commissioner and the PWD engineer-in-chief, requesting action against such violation of court directions, on December 8. “...These activities are also in violation of section-8 of Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994. Several trees have been felled for the purpose of construction and have not been replaced. Section-10 of the DPTA has placed an obligation on the party that has cut trees to plant such number and kind of trees,” the complaint read.
A senior PWD official said that internal roads of the colony were under the jurisdiction of SDMC.
“On the main roads, we ensure that concrete around trees is regularly removed,” the official said.
A senior official of the horticulture department of SDMC, on the condition of anonymity, said a successful drive to remove concretisation around trees can only take place if an anti-encroachment drive is initiated in such upscale neighbourhoods.
However, it would require manpower and resources that the department does not have at present.
“In such colonies, the problem is that residents have encroached upon kerbs where these trees are planted. So technically, these trees are not coming in your way, you have encroached upon public land where the tree was planted. But now you are conveniently saying that the trees are blocking your driveways and gates,” the official said.
Manish Aggarwal, SDMC councillor from Vasant Vihar, said that before the Covid-19 lockdown, many residents were issued notices to remove encroachment outside their houses, but because of the pandemic, several people did not take action.
“We had stuck notices outside many houses asking them to clear the encroachment and many complied with the directions. SDMC will take action in the area that falls under our jurisdiction,” Aggarwal said.
Padmavati Dwivedi, an environmentalist who had spearheaded Delhi’s first tree census in Sarvodaya Enclave in 2012, said without a tree census there was no way to know the condition of trees around us.
“The only interaction of citizens with trees cannot be limited to pruning their branches. They must get involved in their care and protection too. Conducting a tree census is not a one-day photo opportunity, it takes persistence to complete it and to record data, which can be referred to at any time,” Dwivedi said.
Aditya Prasad, an environment lawyer, based on whose petition the NGT had issued the order in 2013, said that apart from ecological damage such largescale concretisation of trees is also a violation of judicial orders.
“Years after the high court and the NGT issued clear directions to prevent concretisation, agencies have not acted on-ground. This is a violation of judicial orders,” he said.