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Delhi’s green tale uncovered


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As reported by Ayesha Arvind and Mandakini Gahlot in expressindia.com on 26 August 2009:

Delhi’s green tale uncovered - Express India


Delhi’s green tale uncovered



New Delhi

* Over 38,000 trees have been cut in Delhi since 2005 for various projects, an RTI application filed by The Indian Express finds

* Ten trees should be replanted as “compensation” for each tree cut, says the law

* At least 3,80,000 saplings should have been replanted, says simple mathematics

* Only 57,584 saplings have been planted instead, RTIs and investigations reveal


Cut to the chase: that, in effect, is Delhi’s green story.


Figures compiled from responses to a Right To Information (RTI) application filed by The Indian Express say 38,372 trees have been cut by the MCD, NDMC, DDA, the Public Works Department and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).


Taking into account trees cut by other agencies and individuals, experts say the figure could be well over 50,000.


As per the Delhi Tree Preservation Act, 1994, for every tree cut the agency responsible is required to plant 10 saplings. The agency also has to submit a security deposit of Rs 1,000 per tree cut, according to law — the amount can be reclaimed once the compensatory re-plantation is done.


While 3,83,720 saplings should have been replanted for the trees cut in the past four years, figures collated from the RTI show that only the city’s West Division has performed as per requirement. It has so far replanted 35,040 sapling — against 8,033 trees cut. But the other divisions said that in many cases re-plantation is “yet to be ascertained.”


North division, for instance, gave permission to cut 8,229 trees in the past three years but only 13,634 saplings have been planted “for certain” till now. The North division replied that it is yet to ascertain whether 23,470 additional saplings that were to be planted have indeed seen light of day.


The South division, where 22,110 trees have been felled in the last three years, is certain about plantation of only 8,910 saplings — all came from the DMRC. The division replied it is “yet to ascertain” plantation of 1,04,520 saplings.


The phrase “yet to ascertain”, according to officials, means the forest division is still awaiting replies from agencies about the compensatory re-plantation.


Significantly, there are glaring anomalies in RTI responses from different agencies in some cases. For instance, DMRC replied that that it got permission from the West forest division to cut 2,428 trees and “transplant” another 1,114. But the West forest division said in its reply that in DMRC has cut 4,156 trees in the past three years.


How green is the re-plantation idea?


In most cases, the government is marking out spaces in the city’s outer limits for re-plantation to compensate for trees cut. But experts, and even the apex court, have questioned whether it is a relevant response.


In August 2008, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Tarun Chatterjee and H S Bedi observed, “We find from experience and observation that re-forestation being carried out in India does not meet the fundamentals. Planting new trees to match the numbers removed is too simplistic and archaic a solution, as in the guise of compensatory re-plantation local varieties of trees are being replaced with alien and non-indigenous ones.”


While most re-plantation is done in areas like Hindon Cut (near Ghazipur; in city’s eastern periphery), Aaya Nagar, Najafgarh and other areas on the fringes, experts are concerned whether the benefits would reach the heart of Delhi.


Pradip Krishan, environmentalist and author of Trees of Delhi: A Field Guide, said: “Planting trees miles away from where they were cut is not a compensation — it will have no direct impact on improving the city’s air quality. The compensatory re-plantation rule also does not bind civic agencies to look after the saplings till they grow up to become trees.”


A Delhi University professor (name withheld on request) said, “There is no rationale behind planting 10 trees for every tree cut. I don’t know how the Delhi government arrived at that particular figure. Also, the ecological benefits of such plantation would be most visible in areas immediately around the forests but, unfortunately, the city will benefit very little.”

Both he and Krishan said the only solution is to take the survival of trees into account while planning infrastructure projects.

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