Delhi’s fight against the ‘Mexican colonialist’ tree hits roadblock

Prosopis julifora popularly known as the Vilayti kikar was brought to India from Mexico by the British in the early 20th century. The tree, since then, has infested the Ridge, wiping out the indigenous species and dealing a blow to biodiversity in the area. It is also depleting the ground water table.

delhi Updated: Jul 23, 2017 23:29 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times
Delhi government,vilayti kikar,Delhi ridge
Vilayati kikar (Babul) tree at Kamla Nehru Ridge in New Delhi. Prosopis julifora popularly known as the Vilayti kikar was brought to India from Mexico by the British in the early 20th century. (Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo)

The Delhi government’s fight against Vilayti Kikar (prosopis juliflora) has hit a major road block. The stumbling stone in this case are satellite images, which help scientists to calculate how much greenery is left in the city.

Environmentalists had suggested that one of the few ways to eliminate the kikar and replace it with native plants is to trim the kikar’s thick canopy. The holes in the canopy would allow sunlight to reach the forest floor. This would provide a chance for newly planted native saplings to fight the hardy kikar.

“But this is where the problem lies. We can’t create holes in the kikar’s canopy by trimming them. Nor can we uproot them. Satellites would detect these holes and portray it as if the city’s green cover is depleting,” said AK Shukla, chief wildlife warden of Delhi.

He said that even if new saplings are planted on the forest floor, the satellites won’t be able to detect them. Satellites can only detect matured trees which are at least four to five years old.

According to the last State of Forest Survey report Delhi had a green cover of around 20.22 % in 2015. In 2013 it was 20.08%. Experts claimed that thick canopies not only helps to fight pollution but also helps the rain water to percolate to the soil effectively and helps in arresting soil erosion.

“Depletion in the forest cover could result in sudden increase in pollution levels and also causes less rain water reaching the subsoil. This could also lead to erosion,” he added.

Eminent ecologist Prof CR Babu, who heads the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem and has successfully eliminated the kikar from nearly 400 acres at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Delhi, however, chose to differ.

“Native deciduous trees are fast growing and can reach the same height as that of vilayti kikar in just two years, if we water them properly. The explanation that satellites cannot detect the new plants seems to be biased,” said Babu.

So what is the solution? The forest department is still trying to find one. Officials are in constant touch with researchers from the Forest Survey of India (FSI) in Dehradun to find a solution to try and kill two birds with one stone – eliminate the kikar without depleting the green cover.

“We are in touch with FSI scientists on how to arrest the growth and regeneration of kikar in a natural way. We also have to increase the moisture content of the soil which has been depleted by the kikar,” said Shukla.

Prosopis julifora popularly known as the Vilayti kikar was brought to India from Mexico by the British in the early 20th century. The tree, since then, has infested the Ridge, wiping out the indigenous species and dealing a blow to biodiversity in the area. It is also depleting the ground water table.

For the first time the Delhi government has earmarked Rs 50 lakh for the financial year 2017-18 for getting rid of ‘vilayati kikar’ from the Ridge. Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia had also said that the government is working on plans to make Delhi free of kikar.

“Once FSI comes up with a plan we would go for a pilot project. If it proves successful we would replicate it across Delhi,” Shukla said.

First Published: Jul 23, 2017 23:29 IST