20 heritage jamun trees may be uprooted in Central Vista revamp
Several heritage trees, including 20 jamun trees, are likely to be uprooted as part of the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment plan stretching from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate and will be transplanted elsewhere, officials in the know said on Thursday.
Citizens and activists have been sharing pictures on social media of the dug-up Rajpath stretch lamenting the loss of the heritage jamun trees.
“We have started work after requisite approvals. No tree to be cut…affected trees are to be transported elsewhere,” said a Central Public Works Department (CPWD) spokesperson.
A senior official of the environment and forest department of Delhi said permission has been given to CPWD to transplant a total of 400 trees for the new Parliament project. These include some jamun and neem trees on Raisina Road and Red Cross Road that are nearly 100 years old.
“There are some 20-22 old jamun trees on Raisina Road that are said to have been planted in the 1920s and were part of Edwin Lutyens’ original design of Lutyens’ Delhi. These trees are nearly 100 years old and might not survive transplantation,” said the environment department official cited above.
Activists said the environmental impact of redevelopment work on Rajpath hasn’t been assessed. The environment clearance for the new Parliament building was issued in June 2020 while that for a common central secretariat and Central Conference Centre along with the Prime Minister’s Residence, the SPG Building and the Vice President’s Enclave has been recommended by the environment ministry on April 13. As per the minutes of the expert appraisal committee (EAC) meeting held on April 13, 3,230 trees are to be transplanted from the site while 1,412 will be retained.
“The central vista project has been broken into different components including the new parliament, central vista avenue and a consolidated proposal including the common central secretariat buildings, the Prime Minister’s residence and the Vice President’s estate. The environment clearance for the new parliament was issued in June 2020 and the approval for the consolidated proposal has been recommended in April 2021. The work on the central vista avenue presently underway did not go through an independent environment impact assessment, possibly because it did not attract the provisions of the EIA notification as it was separated from the other components and implemented as a stand-alone project,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research.
The jamun trees near Rajpath have a special significance to birders and nature lovers in the city. Twice a year there is a murmuration of Rosy Starlings over these jamun trees, and above India Gate.
“Twice a year we see a murmuration of Rosy Starlings over these jamun trees before they roost for the night. We see hundreds of them dance in the sky forming different shapes over India Gate. These trees are also the roosting site for parakeets in the city. During daybreak they are seen flying off to other green spaces such as IIT or Green Park and in the evening, you can see them coming back to India Gate,” said Nikhil Devasar, founder, Delhi Bird.
“…the starlings set off for their communal roost in one of the most staggering natural spectacles of all. Flocks arrive from all directions, gathering in the skies above their roost sites. As the numbers reach into the tens and hundreds of thousands, the murmurations take on incredible shapes in the sky, contracting and expanding as one flock merges into another, and taking on a life of their own...” says the UK-based The Wildlife Trusts, describing starling murmurations.
Delhi forest department officials said they have no information on cutting or transplantation of trees for the Central Vista project.
While the initial tree cutting and transplantation permission requests for the Central Vista project were tabled before the south division of the Delhi forest department, on April 24 the jurisdiction was redrawn and the project site was handed over to the west division.
“Since the official handover happened, no fresh permission request for the Central Vista project has come to the west division,” a senior forest department official said.
Experts pointed out that the transplantation of these heritage trees was as good as cutting the trees because most of them were unlikely to survive the “shock”.
CR Babu, professor emeritus at the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem, Delhi University, said while it is easier for young and shallow-rooted species to survive transplantation, for trees with deep tap root such as the jamun the survival chances are low. “A jamun tree that is less than 20 years of age can survive and regrow. But when their age is above 50 years their roots tend to have penetrated too deep into the soil. This makes it difficult to dig out the roots without damaging the roots. Even if they survive, these will not flourish or perform any ecological functions, so it is equal to being dead,” Babu said.