Delhi’s lungs degrading: Very dense forest cover declines over the past two years
The total forest cover and tree cover in Delhi, has gone up by 0.25% and 0.13%, respectively. But the very dense forest cover declined from 6.94 sq km on 2015 to 6.72 sq km in 2017delhi Updated: Feb 13, 2018 12:55 IST
Are Delhi’s lungs getting degraded?
While on the one hand, there has been a minuscule increase in the forest cover and tree cover in Delhi over the past two years, the city has lost portions of its thick forest during the same duration.
Scientists say that this is a bad sign because it is the dense forests and their thick canopies that actually help to remove carbon dioxide from the air and sequester them.
The India State of Forest Report 2017, which was released on Monday by the Union government, shows that the total forest cover and tree cover in Delhi, has gone up by 0.25% and 0.13%, respectively, since 2015. The forest cover in India has gone up by 1%.
Any patch of land, including an orchard, which is more than one hectare and has a canopy cover of more than 10% is considered a forest. Anything below one hectare is counted as tree cover.
Forest cover ◼ 2015 ◼ 2017 (in sq km)
The report also reveals that both ‘very dense forest’ cover and ‘medium dense forest’ cover in Delhi has declined over the past two years.
While the very dense forest cover has declined from 6.94 sq km on 2015 to 6.72 sq km in 2017, the medium dense forest cover has dropped from 57.1 sq km to 56.2 sq km during the same time.
“While very dense forest cover has more than 70% canopy, medium dense forest cover has a canopy of 40% to 70%. These are the actual carbon sinks. Losing out such dense forests is not a good sign as it reduces a city’s capacity to sequester carbon,” said a senior official of the Forest Survey of India, which prepared the report.
It is the open forests with a canopy cover of 10% to 40% which has increased from 124 sq km to 129 sq km in Delhi, leading to an overall increase in forest cover.
“Some trees had to be felled because of construction projects such as the Metro and road widening. But at the same time, afforestation drives were also undertaken. The new plants have not been accounted for as they are too small. They would only come under the medium dense forest or very dense forest after a period of five to 10 years at least,” said Ishwar Singh, additional principal chief conservator of forest of Delhi.
“Most of Delhi’s forests are dominated by the Vilayti Kikar (Prosopis julifora) and they provided a thick canopy cover. But over the past few years, we have been noticing that the kikars are being attacked by two kinds of weeds, which are basically climbers, resulting in their canopy loss. The water table is also going down causing death of some kikars. This could be a possible reason behind the loss of dense forest cover,” said CR Babu, ecologist.
The report says that Delhi’s addition of 3.64 sq km of forest, mostly through open forest cover, is because of plantation and conservation activities. The decrease is forest cover has been attributed to civil construction.
In April 2017, the then environment minister Anil Madhav Dave had informed the Rajya Sabha that more than 15,000 trees were felled in Delhi between 2014 and 2017 for construction works.
“The government seems to be running after numbers. Just saying that forest cover and tree cover has gone up, would be portraying a rosy picture. The count may have gone up but the health of forest has actually deteriorated. By planting a few trees as a part of compensatory afforestation programme one can never replace a healthy forest. With loss of each hectare of forest we also lose an ecosystem,” said Vimlendu Jha, environmentalist.