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Lack of records, staff shortage, frequent fires fail replantation drive in Delhi’s northern outskirts

At Garhi Mandu, officials were found struggling to manage the compensatory plantations for projects dating back decades. They said till seven years after compensatory plantation begins, there is hardly any stock-taking for the number of trees that are actually planted or survived by the severely short-staffed Delhi government’s forest department.

delhi Updated: Jun 27, 2018 15:05 IST
Soumya Pillai and Joydeep Thakur
Soumya Pillai and Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lack,record,staff
A view of dried out forest area at Garhi Mandu village, near Shahdara on the outskirts of Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

In a 750-acre patch of land in northern outskirts of Garhi Mandu, the city’s forest department is struggling with problems such as lack of records, fire damage, thin tree cover, and shortage of staff. This is the location around which NBCC (India) Ltd has been ordered to start compensatory plantation against the felling more than 14,000 trees in south Delhi.

Forest department officials familiar with the matter said they have no means of checking the progress of compensatory plantation done at patches of land such as this one. Various agencies have been using this patch of land to complete “compensatory plantations” over the past 20 years in lieu of these development projects, officials said.

When Hindustan Times visited Garhi Mandu on Tuesday, officials were found struggling to manage the compensatory plantations for projects dating back decades. They said till seven years after compensatory plantation begins, there is hardly any stock-taking for the number of trees that are actually planted or survived by the severely short-staffed Delhi government’s forest department.

Officials at the plantation site keep no records of trees planted and there is hardly any stocktaking. Even though the compensatory plantation for the NBCC project is yet to take off, a sprawling 750-acre land in Garhi Mandu paints a different picture from what is being painted in press briefings.

The space is lined with small- to medium-sized trees, many of which look feeble. This piece of land stands in isolation against its surroundings that is heaped with concrete, plastic and all kinds of domestic waste. Not a single large tree can be seen in the vicinity.

Forest officials said that the plot of land where the compensatory plantation for the NBCC project is supposed to take place is “yet to be handed over” to them.

“The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) would be providing us land near Garhi Mandu village for compensatory plantation. Compensatory plantation would be taken up as soon as we get the plot,” said a senior official of the state forest department.

Frequent fires, damaged saplings

Officials from the forest department said that till six months ago, the boundary of this land was not fenced. This resulted in locals trespassing and often throwing half-burnt cigarettes that would frequently spark fires.

Delhi Fire Services confirmed that this area has frequently seen blazes. Last year, 14 cases of fires were reported here. Officials, on the other hand, said the number is larger in reality because smaller blazes are often not reported and are handled by the staff itself.

It is mostly the saplings, and small trees that get damaged in these blazes. “Fire is a major problem here. Every year at least 100 saplings get destroyed. We have no clear figures, but the loss is huge,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.

No data on saplings

Officials from the department said that when permission is sought by a private or government agency for felling trees, the deputy conservator of forests (DCF) is required to conduct an inspection to check the number of saplings being planted at sites such as these.

In fact, the agencies using this area for compensatory plantation are not even required to enter the numbers of saplings they have planted, the official said. Officials said the department has been unable to maintain any record of saplings being planted and is not aware of the survival rate of whichever saplings that do get planted.

Shortage of resources

According to the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, teams from the forest department are required to monitor the growth and survival of the saplings for seven years. However, the officials at the site said due of shortage of staff they have been unable to do so.

The inspection teams in Garhi Mandu don’t even have vehicles to patrol the acres of land there. The staff members also have to sit outside their office as there is no electricity supply in the complex and they do not even have access to drinking water.

“When we work under such conditions it is needless to say the quality of inspections and the process of granting permissions,” a government official said.

What experts say

Prabhakar Rao, member of Kalpavriksha Environment Action Group and an expert on urban forests, said that the concept of compensatory plantation does not hold ground in a heavily polluted city such as Delhi because it usually takes at least 30 years for a sapling to start giving the benefits of a fully-grown tree.

“Compensatory plantation is not an everyday solution. These might work in a place where there is still some tree equilibrium, but not here. Delhi doesn’t have a backup green layer to afford tree felling in the name of compensatory afforestation,” he said.

Rao added that compensating a fully-grown tree with a handful of saplings does not make sense. Instead, a tree must be compensated by its girth size. For example, if a tree has a girth size of 20cm then for cutting it the norm should be to compensate the same girth size irrespective of the numbers.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 14:34 IST