(Authors Profile: – The author is an environmentalist and a birder, and crusader against tree felling, has filed a petition in NGT against Sarojini Nagar felling. He works against garbage burning in Dwarka and presently continuing as Secretary of Green Circle, a 2002 registered NGO. Professionally, he is an ex banker and faculty member in Banking holding an MBA CAIIB qualification)
Delhi is searching for clean air as the Air Quality Index has already peaked out beyond dangerous level. The official norms and definitions of forest cover in Delhi appear to be misleading and make the planners paint a rosy picture to satisfy the netas and people alike. In Delhi, we all talk about deteriorating air quality and demand oxygen but we comfortably forget that trees are the only solution. An effort is made in this article to ascertain the anomalies in the forest policy in Delhi and discuss corrective measures to revisit the present status of pollution control measures in the pretext of ongoing deforestation in Delhi
Delhi’s status of Forest
The National Forest Policy, 1988 provides that a minimum of 1-3rd of the total land area of the country should be under forest area. As per 2015 status report of forests, Delhi has 299.58 sq km of land under forest which accounts for 20.22 % of the Geographic area which means still we are lagging behind in tree cover. Precisely, 300 sq.kms i.e. one fifth of Delhi is forest logically. Out of this, 111 sq.kms is TREE COVER and 189 sq. kms is FOREST COVER making a total of say 300 sq.kms. However this author attempted to analyse the status of forests in the light of the official definitions offered by forest department which has provided the above data.
What is Forest cover?
The term ‘Forest Cover’ used in the State of Forest Report (SFR) refers to all lands more than one hectare in area, having a tree canopy density of more than 10%. Assuming that the forest department has accounted forest cover at this ratio, then it goes without saying that all the accounted forest area of 188.77 Sq KMs will have just in reality counts for 10% of it. In other words, the greenery (or tree) requirement in these areas may be hardly 19 Sq KMs of actual forests or may be a little more of it. Let’s assume that it may be 30 Sq KMs on a ‘generous’ accounting (extrapolation of data is quite a common thing in statistical methods). The term ‘Forest Area’ (or recorded forest area) generally refers to all the geographic areas recorded as forest in government records. Recorded forest areas largely comprise Reserved Forests (RF) and Protected Forests (PF), which have been constituted under the provisions of Indian Forest Act, 1927. Besides RFs and PFs, the recorded forest area may include all such areas, which have been recorded as forests in the revenue records or have been constituted so under any State Act or local laws.
What is Tree Cover?
Tree cover comprises of tree patches outside the recorded forest area exclusive of forest cover and less than the minimum mapable area (1 ha). These lands are not recorded forest area as per definition above. These areas may be found in private land as well as road sides. Such areas may include orchards, bamboo, palm etc which neither produce enough oxygen nor filter carbon emissions. However in the definition of tree cover, these trees are also included in the policy papers.
What is Forest then?
As stated in the above definitions, Forest cover as well as Tree Cover account for the term ‘forest” which means that the presence of trees over private areas or residential areas too also account for the forest area. This is how Delhi has a forest of 299.77 Sq Kms which included 111 sq. kms tree cover and 188.77 sq. kms forest cover. If Delhi flaunts that it has forest to the tune of a fifth of the Geographic area of 1500 sq km, it is indeed a farce and just a play with the jugglery of definitions and an effort to shut the mouths of the conscious citizens. Real efforts should be made using satellite mapping and scientific technologies.
Planting and nurturing of trees
The author is of the opinion that the present pattern of planting of trees is neither scientific not sustainable. During the last season, the Delhi Government has gone for massive plantation and all departments were given quantitative target. In their anxiety to achieve the given target in the short span of monsoon days, departments were seen planting homogenous trees wherever space was available. Choice of trees was also not done with proper homework on the sustainable species. .In many cases, it was seen that ornamental plants were planted just to reach the numerical targets. Planting trees in platforms and then concretizing the platforms have led to the death and decay of the existing trees. Saving an existing tree is more important than planting 10 new trees which will take years to bring the expected results. Further the tree care must focus on removing parasitic creepers such as Amar Bel (Cuscuta) and termite infection. Focus for new tree plantation must take into account the Indigenous species, long term planning for spacing, avoidance of ornamental and homogenous plantation besides ensuring regular watering
Ongoing massive felling spree in Delhi
Chipko Movement of South Delhi brought many of us together. 16500 trees were at stake in South Delhi, India Gate trees are awaiting axe. Atul Khataria Chowk is ready for felling, Noida is almost finished. Aravali will be a history soon. Dwarka Express way is going to end another 3000 trees. Dwarka’s Bharat Vandana Virgin forest area of 200 Acres is at the verge of getting converted into theme park. Things are not moving in right direction despite our concerted efforts to fight against the double giants NBCC and CPWD. Any moment axe may fall on the trees. If the tree cover is not sufficient we go for planting new trees which take at least 30 years to reach an acceptable definition of TREE. But cutting well grown trees is not stopped though our movement has prevented. The ongoing construction activities will increase AQI for sure, but are we going to allow that. Answer is an emphatic YES and NO which squarely depends on civic society’s conviction. An ordinary Delhi citizen rarely comes out for fighting against any Social evil whether it is a child abuse, women empowerment, corruption in public life, pollution or tree felling. But a concerted effort an selfless service for saving a tree is essential. Right under our nose many trees are dying a slow death. We have identified many concerns such as nailing, concretisation, termite infection, Amar bel onslaught, natural disasters like uprooting of trees etc. Pruning of leaves is another issue. While Delhi Tree Act stipulates norms, we come across cases where trees are pruned flouting the standard pruning norms. No enforcement is in place against the perpetrators of the crime.
Tree Transplantation Policy – Fixing the last nail
In the meanwhile Delhi Government has come out with the draconian transplantation policy which is yet to be incorporated into the Delhi Tree Conservation Act. If enforced, the draft policy will do more harm in the guise of accommodating road expansion and area redevelopment. The 20:80 norms for felling vs transplantation of trees will completely eliminate the green face of Delhi. There is no rhyme of logic behind such proportion decided unilaterally and unscientifically is disgusting. The 1:10 compensatory plantation does not hold water, given the oxygen yielding capacity of the newly planted trees vis-à-vis the 100 year old trees. There are no yardsticks or rules proposed in the new transplantation policy about the pragmatic monitoring mechanism. In fact the entire transplantation policy appears to be hurriedly drafted to accommodate certain ongoing road expansion/ redevelopment projects and please the Netas. There is a dire need to rollback the draconian Tree transplantation Policy.
Very soon, we will have to rename the popular residential areas in South Delhi in particular as Kidwainagar desert, Netaji nagar desert etc Instead of going to Rajastan Jaisalmir to see deserts, we can soon see camels walking in Delhi. Time is running out. Delhi or Desert, decision is in people’s hand.