‘Plantation drive harming ecology of Central Ridge’: Experts
The Central Ridge, located near Karol Bagh, spreads over 864 hectares of which 423 hectares are managed by the forest department. It is a part of the Aravallis, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world.Updated: Oct 02, 2020, 12:33 IST
The landscape of Delhi’s Central Ridge on Thursday morning had a less greener hue than it usually does during the post-Monsoon October period. Dug up patches of land – covering several hectares – could be spotted planted with hundreds of young saplings replacing the native species of shrubs and ground vegetation in these areas. The pits, barely two-three metres apart in some cases, were surrounded by dying creepers and pruned branches of existing trees, which had been pushed to the periphery of the plantation area.
Delhi-based environmentalist and author Pradip Krishen walked around the area with other tree activists, ecologists and journalists on Thursday to explain the extent of “damage” caused to the native species by this “undesired plantation”. “My guess is that around 10-12 hectares have been flattened already. The Ridge has a dry, rocky, and thin soil. Most of the saplings that are being planted here won’t survive here if they are not watered regularly and perpetually,” said Krishen.
Having walked for about three kilometres through the protected forest land, an abundance of jamun, cyrus, maulshri, ullu, kassod, and kadamb saplings meets the eyes, which Krishen said cannot be considered native to the ridge and should not have been planted here.
He added that at least 30 native species that could grow well here — including amaltas, chudail papdi, dhau, dhak, hingot, ronjh, bistendu and khair, among others, — must be planted. These trees are well-adapted to prosper under the harsh conditions of the ridge.
Some patches of ground vegetation and shrubs had been cleared away using a JCB machine to dig the pits.
“The rootstocks are still here, which means they can grow back,” said Padmavati Dwivedi, a tree activist, who led the first tree census of Delhi a few years ago. Touching the tiny leaves sprouting out of a rootstock, Dwivedi said, “If they had to clear out patches for plantation, why not remove the invasive vilayti kikar through proper procedure instead of using machines, which would further damage the ecosystem.”
The Central Ridge, located near Karol Bagh, spreads over 864 hectares of which 423 hectares are managed by the forest department. It is a part of the Aravallis, one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. It is infested with vilayti kikar (prosopis juliflora), an exotic and invasive tree species, which with its deep roots sucks up much of the groundwater leaving the land dry. The vilayti kikars also do not allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, which in turn prevents other species to grow along with it. The Delhi government had in 2018 proposed a project to replace the tree species with indigenous varieties. However, the project is still awaiting the nod of the state cabinet.
Following a series of separate orders by Delhi High Court last year to plant tree saplings (including mango and jackfruit) as compensation, a plantation drive was launched at the Central Ridge area by the Delhi forest department. This drive, experts however feared , could disrupt the fragile ecosystem of the ridge.
On Thursday, environmentalists and tree activists walked around the Ridge area to take stock of the several green patches that had been cleared by JCBs, leaving behind empty pits, with little space between them. Even the saplings that had been planted were done so in a grid-like manner.
“Forest restorations are to be done in a planned way. For instance, trees which may grow together are planted in one area. Pioneer trees, which grow alone, should be planted in a separate area. There seems to be no such planning here. The Ridge forest is an open thorn forest and yet the holes had been spaced for a dense woodland,” said Krishen, who has been working for over a decade to restore degraded parts of the desert in around Jaipur and Jodhpur.
The activists also said that a plantation drive being carried out after the rainy season would not serve its purpose. “In a 25-30 hectares patch of the ridge, the forest department is carrying out plantation activity at a time when the monsoon season is over in Delhi. The only time to plant on the dry, rocky, thin-soiled ridge is early in the rainy season. Most of the pits are lying empty,” Krishen wrote in his letter to Delhi Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal on Monday, requesting his intervention to halt the plantation drive.
While L-G’s office did not respond to repeated requests for a comment on the matter, Delhi government’s environment department reacting to Krishen’s letter said that the plantation is being done on the directions of the high court of Delhi.
The department said in response to HT’s query said that “from last year to now, at least 32,000 saplings have been planted under the drive, with 9,000 more waiting to be planted for which the pits have been dug up. However, the pits are empty because the saplings to be planted here have to brought by the litigants. The saplings brought by them were not suitable and hence they were asked to return them and get new ones. Besides, the 13 varieties of species that have been planted here are as per the list of species mentioned in the court order.”
Explaining the use of JCB machine, the department said that the machine was used only at places where the soil was very hard and pits could not be dug manually.
Highlighting the urgency of the matter, activists said that continuing with the plantation would set everything back, damage the area, and cause soil run-off. “Until we have the expertise and a dedicated team of ecologists, designers and landscape architects who can study the soil and not just species and try to emulate natural forest systems similar to that of the Ridge, we should leave the area as it is,” said Krishen.
CR Babu, professor emeritus at Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem in Delhi University, said that he had last year told the forest department that indiscriminate large-scale plantation will disturb the biodiversity of the ridge. “This kind of plantation activity must be stopped. No exotic trees could be planted here. The ridge is a huge recharging zone and indiscriminate plantation can disturb the aquifer system. I had given a list of species that could be planted here. Also, the department has to first restore its native ecosystem by removing vilayti kikar and growing native species,” said Babu.