9 trees died, 24 damaged during digging work in Delhi Cant: Forest dept to high court
The Delhi government’s forest department has submitted a fresh status report to the Delhi high court stating that a total of 33 trees have been damaged (of which nine later died) in the deemed forest and morphological ridge land in Delhi Cantonment, by the army and the public works department (PWD) while carrying out separate excavation and construction work along the Ring Road.
The report, which was submitted on September 18 after an inspection by forest officials on September 3, said fresh violations were observed by the PWD while taking up digging and levelling work near Dhaula Kuan bus stop.
“For carrying out any kind of non-forest activity in the morphological ridge (an area having Ridge-like features), prior permission is needed from the Ridge Management Board, which the PWD did not have,” the report prepared by deputy conservator of forests (west division) Muan Guite said.
On August 27, HT had reported that around 33 trees were damaged during the construction of a boundary wall (from Sawai Man Singh Dwar to Army Environmental Park and Training Area) by the army. The court had issued contempt notices to army officers as well as PWD officials over the alleged damage caused to trees and had asked the agencies to stop the work.
On Wednesday, the high court directed the forest department to guide the PWD and the army in carrying out restoration of damaged trees.
“The DCF shall specify the areas where the trees need to be planted and also specify the variety of trees along with their girth, size, and age, required to be planted,” the court said.
The patch in question is located along the Ring Road in Delhi Cantonment and is both a deemed forest and a morphological ridge. Any kind of trenching, excavation and construction work here without due permission amounts to a violation of both the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, as well as National Green Tribunal’s 2015 order prohibiting such activities within a one-metre radius of tree trunks.
As per Supreme Court order, in Delhi’s context, a deemed forest is one that is spread across an area of at least one hectare and the number of trees per hectare is 250 or above.
The forest department report said nine trees were now dead. “Of the total trees damaged, 24 can still be saved by treating them and covering the exposed roots with soil,” the report said.
It further said, “The total morphological ridge and deemed forest area affected due to soil excavation and digging work by PWD is 2,630 square metres. A total of seven full-grown pipal trees have been damaged by the PWD.”
A senior PWD official, who did not wish to be named, said that corrective action will be taken based on the court directions.
The report also highlighted that upon inspection, it was found that fresh construction, of the boundary wall, was being carried out by the army. “The excavated soil and debris were indiscriminately thrown into the deemed forest area thereby exposing some of the root system of trees and damaging secondary the root system as well. In the process of trenching for the boundary wall foundation, some of the trees have fallen completely. The ground flora has also been damaged thereby disturbing the ecology of the area,” it said.
The report said a total of 26 trees such as bargad, shehtoot, subabool and gular, among others, have been damaged by the army.
Indian Army spokesperson Aman Anand, who had earlier denied any damage to trees, said, “A statement has been issued earlier in the matter and now the case is subjudice.”
“A status report has been submitted in the court. The excavation and construction work was stopped in the area on September 4 itself,” said Guite.
CR Babu, professor emeritus at Delhi University’s Centre for Environment Management of Degraded Ecosystems, said damage and felling of so many trees along a busy road will reduce the efficacy of the tree line to act as a filter for pollutants. Most of these trees have high dust-trapping efficiency, which has been hampered. “The trees that are still alive can be restored by covering the roots with fresh and good quality soil, which must be mixed with an anti-termite agent, as damaged trees are highly susceptible to termite infestation. The trees must be watered adequately until they start regrowing,” he said.