On a dry note: Will Delhi's green grow?

The plantation drive by civic agencies has hit a roadblock in the form of unskilled workers and monsoon, jeopardising prospects of a 'blooming city' in October. Neelam Pandey and Mallica Joshi report. Get ready for ‘environmentally-conscious’ shera | Number crunching, agency wise

delhi Updated: Aug 19, 2010 02:13 IST

The city's new found greenery on roads might not be around for long, as the hands planting them are not trained to do so.

Even as Delhi goes on a green drive ahead of the Commonwealth Games, with majority of work being carried out by unskilled workers, there is a huge question mark on the quality of work.

Not only this. On a majority of stretches, the work has begun during the peak monsoon season that isn't suitable for the growth of plants. And with barely 45 days to go for the sporting event, work has not even started on a number of stretches.

In a rush to meet the deadline and keeping the enormity of the streetscaping project in mind, the civic agencies are getting the work done by private firms through tenders.

A majority of work is being carried out near the stadia, roads connecting the main venues, training venues and areas to be frequented by tourists.

"Our staff is already busy preparing potted plants in our nurseries. We had to prepare 10 lakh potted plants out of which 8 lakh are ready. In such a condition, we had no choice but to involve private agencies," said a senior MCD official.

"Our staff could not even supervise the work as there is huge shortage of gardeners, who are also involved in upkeep of colony parks," he added.

The contractors who have been entrusted with the job have blamed the civic agencies for starting up so late.

"The digging work went on for a long time and we could not start work on time. On such a short notice how can they expect us to consult experts? The workers who were constructing and relaying the pavements are also being asked to plant saplings," said Sunil Vohra, president of Delhi Municipal Contractors' Association.

"We are just trying to finish the work as soon as possible."

Experts point out that a majority of these plants may not be able to survive till the Games.

"Planting trees doesn't mean digging up and burying a sapling. It is a specialised job for which you need trained gardeners. You can't expect those who are constructing walkways and buildings to plant trees as well," said Ravi Aggarwal, environmentalist and convener of 'Trees for Delhi ', a forum of citizens and NGOs formed to protest felling of trees for the CWG projects.

Experts have also criticised the timing as rain washes away manure and damages the roots.

"You can't be planting trees in the middle of the monsoon. New plants can't take the pressure of the rain and it hampers their growth. The civic agencies have turned this exercise into a Game-related project, giving no thought to the future," he added.

Three agencies — Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Public Works Department (PWD), New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) — are carrying out streetscaping in the city.

The MCD claimed that one third of its work is being executed by private firms, whereas NDMC officials said private agencies are handling one-fourth of the work.

"In some PWD areas where streetscaping is being carried out through tenders, unskilled labourers are planting sapling under the supervision of PWD gardeners," said Ravi Mathur, director (personnel), PWD.

The green drive is also marred by selection of wrong species of plants.

Wrapping a protective net

It was a huge setback for the plantation drive of the civic agencies - Saplings planted by them on the central verges started dying out soon after they were planted.

Going by the rate the plants were dying out, a majority of them are unlikely to survive till the Games in October. Also, these saplings have been planted in areas with a huge density of population and with movement of people they weren't able to grow.

To overcome this, the civic agencies had started barricading the areas with the help of netted material.

These nets protected the saplings from getting trampled over and allowed them to grow.

These netted material have been put up on many roads including ITO, Defence Colony, near AIIMS, Lodhi Colony, Bhishma Pitamah Marg. However, as the cost of the protective nets was quite steep, the civic agencies have been putting them on a priority basis.

The root cause of contention

When the project to pave footpaths in various parts of the city was taken up, the civic agencies had not expected the strong backlash that would follow it.

Civil society members, Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) and activists protested en-masse against the project, as it would have resulted in the roots of trees drying up.

"We saw a lot of protests from residents of the Siri Fort area. Therefore, we are using special tiles around trees to protect the roots from drying up," said a PWD official.

The civic agencies have started paving the area around trees with special tiles that have slits in them, which allow water to percolate into the soil. But this project, too, has failed at many places.

The slits have filled up with sand, stones and cement making them defunct.

"The civic agencies have also ignored the elements of uniformity of design. One can see three different designs on a single stretch," said R.K. Vats, a resident of Hauz Khas.

No plants for CW Park?

It was touted as a park representing all the nations of the Commonwealth. The NDMC had planned the CWG park at Africa Avenue where a plant from each participating country would be planted. However, with barely 46 days to go for the Games, the civic agency has now said due to quarantine issue, they will now have to make do with indigenous species.

"We had earlier requested the CWG countries, who were coming to the city for a conference, to bring a plant with them. However, we were later told that serious quarantine issues were involved so they could not get it with them," said a senior NDMC official.

The civic agency had also suggested the Commonwealth countries suggest a plant which is locally available in case the plant might not be able to survive Delhi's climatic condition. The NDMC has now gone for Indian species including amla, tesu, peepul, and bargad for the park.

The civic agencies are still hopeful of getting plants from Commonwealth countries.

Planting confusion, concern

When the Public Works Department (PWD) came up with the plan to use potted plants in and around the Commonwealth Games venue to jazz it up, they did not think it would become such a huge security concern.

The PWD had prepared 5 lakh potted plants, especially for the Commonwealth Games, but for now it does not have a place to lay them.

The Delhi Police refused to grant permission to place the potted plants in or around the Games venue due to security concerns.

Lack of co-ordination among the authorities is quite apparent as PWD officials claimed: "The security concerns were relayed to us very late in the day. No one raised an objection during the planning stages."

The civic agency is now planning to transplant the plants from pots to flower beds near flyovers. "If we do not get approval to place pots in and near games venues, we will transfer them to flower beds near flyovers," said Ravi Mathur, director (personnel), PWD.

The civic agency is also planning to prepare more than one lakh pots of plants which will bloom during October.

Unskilled workers turn gardeners

The civic agencies have left it to private companies to tend to plants on various stretches in the city. What these firms are doing is hiring unskilled workers to handle the plantation drive, affecting the quality of work.

"Wherever work has been awarded to a private party, apart from carrying out the plantation drive, they are also constructing pavements. Hand they are using the same labour for both the tasks," said a senior MCD official.

"Our gardeners are already overburdened with taking care of colony parks and preparing potted plants. We couldn't have asked them to supervise the plantation work too," he added.

On many stretches, saplings are dying out within days of being planted on roads such as SP Marg, Mandi House, near Delhi Secretariat, Shanti Path, Golf Links, and Karol Bagh among others. Apart from planting saplings on the footpath, on many of the stretches the untrained labourers have buried polythene bags in the soil as well.

First Published: Aug 18, 2010 23:21 IST