Delhi Grapples Amid Redevelopment, Pollution; Environmentalists Call For Rethinking
A recent decision by the Delhi government has raised a sensitive issue for the citizens. The Forest Department had given the permission to uproot as many as 17,000 full-grown trees as part of the redevelopment of central government housing projects in south Delhi. This sparked protests from different corners of the society, as people took to streets while others voiced their concerns on social media.
At a time when the city is grappling with mounting pollution levels, depleting groundwater levels and spreading of concrete jungles, the move could add an apparent insult to injury. However, the intervention of the Delhi High Court, which earlier refused to pass an interim order on the issue, brings a temporary relief. On June 26, the HC ordered a stay on felling of trees till July 4. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), the government agency authorised to handle environmental disputes, will also hear a petition on July 2.
The redevelopment plan
A total of seven General Pool Residential Accommodation (GPRA) colonies in south Delhi are being redeveloped by National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC India Ltd.) and the Central Public Works Department (CPWD). The areas include Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Sriniwaspuri, Mohammadpur and Thyagaraja Nagar. The NBCC cites the creation of parking spaces to accommodate about 70,000 vehicles for this large-scale cutting of trees. Ironical as it may sound, the redeveloped projects will have green features such as solid waste processing, use of recycled water for horticulture and flushing, green cover and zero discharge. About 12,970 existing housing units of Type-I to IV (of built-up area of approximately 749,000 square metres) with 25,667 dwelling units of Type-II to VI (of built-up area of 2.91 million square metres). The project has an estimated cost of Rs 32,835 crore including maintenance and operation costs for 30 years.
According to a statement by the government, the number of trees to be felled is 8,322 out of 11,913 trees in Sarojini Nagar, 1,465 of 1,513 tress in Nauroji Nagar, 2,315 of 3,906 trees in Netaji Nagar, 562 trees Mohammadpur, 723 trees in Kasturba Nagar, 750 trees in Sriniwaspuri and 93 in Thyagaraja Nagar.
Delhi’s ‘Chipko’ movement
Akin to the Chipko Movement which started in early 1970s, several residents, activists and even school children in Delhi have been opposing this recent order.
However, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in a statement has announced that ‘compensatory plantation’ of trees is being carried out in a ratio of 1:10, that is, ten saplings are being planted for each tree which is cut, as per the guidelines given by the Forest Department. It said that 1,35,460 trees would be planted which will result in creation of an ‘Urban Forest’. The ministry is optimistic about retaining a significant portion of the existing tree cover. The NGT, too, had earlier asked the agency carrying out the project to transplant trees instead of cutting them.
What could be the alternative solution?
Although urban development is the need of the hour, environmentalists are not convinced with the idea of increasing tree-coverage area with compensatory plantations, as a sapling takes years to take the form of a tree. Also, that the saplings planted at a different location cannot substitute the huge tree cover which would ruthlessly be cleared away.
In India, there have been many instances when the government’s move to chop down trees had been met with stiff resistance from the masses. In 2016, residents of Bengaluru staged a protest over felling of 800 trees to make way for a steel flyover project, following which the project was stalled. In Mumbai too, around 3,500 trees in Aarey Colony were to be cut down for a Mumbai Metro project.
Many environmentalists, who know that inclusion of trees in the design of urban spaces is a key principle of urban forestry, fail to see this systematic management on the part of the government. Many cities like in the United States adopt the ‘selective cutting’ method for commercial logging, where only selective trees are cut while the remaining forest area is left intact. Whereas in residential areas, it is mandatory to sustain a certain portion of tree cover and the authorities ensure that they blend with the overall project plan. These facts are a clear indication that the government seriously needs to do some rethinking.