In 5 years, Delhi didn’t reject any proposal to cut trees for projects
In the past five years, the Delhi government’s forest department has not rejected any proposals for tree felling for major development projects in the city, officials from the department said.
Officials said that at least since 2013, all government and private agencies undertaking development projects in the national capital have been granted permissions for tree felling. Only minor variations are made to the proposals, and if at all, the number of trees to be cut is reduced marginally, they explained. The latest project to have been cleared by the forest department for tree felling is the widening of the stretch between Dhaula Kuan and Indira Gandhi International Airport.
Officials said that 2,168 fully grown trees were identified for felling by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in March this year. Permissions have been granted by the lieutenant governor for chopping of 2,162 out of these 2,168 trees.
The cutting of trees has become controversial following a furore over the plan to fell around 16,500 trees in South Delhi for an ambitious project redeveloping several neighbourhoods dedicated to government housing.
For the Dhaula Kuan project, “a portion of these trees that are required to be cut was falling in the green area, and needed permissions from the apex court. Some area was also falling in the cantonment area. We have got those permissions,” a forest department official said.
Other projects that have been given the go-ahead show a similar trend.
Records accessed by HT show that in September 2015, the forest department had cleared a proposal for the felling of 314 trees. Permissions were originally sought for felling of 320 trees by the Public Works Department (PWD) for the construction of the Barapullah elevated corridor (phase-III).
In the same year the department also cleared two other proposals—for the construction of a multi-storey office complex for the Shahdara zonal office at Karkardooma by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) and for the widening of road number-59 at IP Estate by the PWD. For the EDMC project, permissions were granted for the felling of 176 trees, while for the PWD road widening project the cutting of 263 trees was cleared.
“The initial proposal for EDMC has asked for 182 trees to be chopped and for the road widening in IP Estate, the agency had asked that 275 trees be allowed to be chopped,” the forest department official added on condition of anonymity
Forest department officials said that government projects and especially those that are “aimed at improving infrastructure” face the least resistance.
Delhi’s environment minister Imran Hussain, however, said that many of these projects were granted permissions before the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government came to power.
“All projects that have been tabled under our government have gone through scrutiny,” he said.
Officials said that the permission process is far more strenuous for an individual looking for cutting or pruning a smaller number of trees. “When the permissions are for smaller numbers, our officials inspect thoroughly and try our best that the tree is saved. In a large project manually inspecting all trees is not possible. Especially with the limited resources we work with,” another official said.
Prabhakar Rao, a member of Kalpavriksha Environment Action Group, and an expert on urban forests, said that in any major project, the trees are the first to be removed even before the design is finalised.
“That is the easiest thing to do. The permissions are difficult to justify but the environment is hardly on any agency’s mind,” Rao said.