Everyone in the city of Delhi and conscious citizens around the country are aware of Delhi’s dire situation when it comes to “protecting its trees”. For those who are not aware, here’s a little recap. The NBCC (National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited) is currently the contractor for a massive Rs 32,000 crore project to “redevelop” half a dozen colonies, which requires the felling of 16000 trees. This decision was met with widespread protests, while also placing the spotlight firmly on the government’s previous tree felling sprees and subsequent afforestation and ‘compensatory’ efforts. Not surprisingly, previous claims and assurances have increasingly been found to be wanting in accuracy, to say the least. Be it third party audits of survival rates of saplings, or even actual planting, there are large holes in claims everywhere.
The latest development in the case includes the extension of the stay order by the NGT till 19th July, which was further extended by the High Court on July 4th to July 26th.
“The order is fantastic! It shows the people that development does not come at the cost of the environment. Moreover, the fact that the court has insisted that the NBCC Chairman attend each and every court hearing, goes to show that, should there be any discrepancy he will be held accountable,” said Bhavreen from Delhi Trees SOS to Iamrenew.
However, while everyone’s attention is on Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar or Kidwai Nagar, the residents of Sunder Nagar at Mathura Road are the latest to join in the fight, where 1400 trees are being cleared to make way for an underpass.
The road which was once lined with trees over a 100 years old were mostly cleared by the officials at night without the residents being informed of any such orders. Citing the “confusion” on the court’s latest decision and notifications on cutting down trees, the contractors at Sunder Nagar threatened and intimidated local guards, with threats of physical harm being deployed casually.
The incident that took place a few days ago at night, had a few residents coming out and pleading with the officials to stop (once they were informed by the guards). The RWA officials were not reachable. The incident which was recorded shows how the police are also involved in the scandal. They cite that their orders come from the PMO and that the residents should write a written complain if they have any qualms. This order by the PMO came last month and is in conflict with the high court’s current order which forbids any tree to be cut down in the city without the court’s order.
“The recording is from a reliable source and not staged for personal interests, that’s the reason why we’re sharing it. We need to be unified and most importantly consistent in this fight,” said Bhavreen.
Delhi Trees SOS has been in the forefront of the fight against the felling of trees all around Delhi. A movement which started with a small group of people soon gained traction with the help of the media and are working day in and day out for the cause. Currently, with the help of volunteers, Delhi Trees SOS is doing a census of the trees around Netaji Nagar, where they measure the girth and height of each tree standing and note down its species. Furthermore, they note down each tree’s number (if it doesn’t have one they give it one) and its location with using GPS.
“The authorities claim there are about 3000 trees in this area but they haven’t disclosed their varieties or any other information at all. There is no way to actually confirm whether their claim is true. That’s why we’re out here to count and see for ourselves, to make sure that there indeed isn’t any discrepancy,” said Valarie who was heading the census this Saturday.
The decision of both the NGT as well as the high court is indeed a small victory in the war against the country’s corrupt officials who put our cities ecosystems at stake. However, as a few big stories in local city papers indicate, the government is determined, and efforts to ‘manage’ public opinion are already on in earnest, as predicted by us. Today, there was major coverage given to a government-backed plan to develop a ‘green wall’ around Delhi with 32 lakh trees, yes, you read that right, work for which is already underway. By throwing around massive numbers like these to balance out the ‘small sacrifice’ of 16000 trees or more, the focus will be on making this a fight between ‘ignorant blockers’ and ‘essential development’ . With the government having more than just pliant laws behind it.
While various parties and government organisations keep passing the buck to each other in this vicious game of who’s to blame all the while making a profit out of it; be it the BJP who’s behind the redevelopment scheme along with the NBCC or the Aam Adami Party that has promised the underpass. It is clear that the real victims are the trees, and residents of Delhi and especially those living around these areas.
As we walk around Netaji Nagar accompanying the volunteers for their census, the locals stop us and talk to us about how they’ve grown up here and how their area which was once so diverse and rich with fruits and flowers, now lies as a barren wasteland.
As per Delhi Trees SOS out of the total redevelopment scheme almost 80% or more is dedicated solely to commercial purposes. In fact, a vast majority of the government servants living in these areas are too scared to speak out against any of this lest they lose their jobs.
When we asked Bhavreen about her views on the “redevelopment” being done and the claims laid down by the officials when it comes to planting trees, she scoffed and said,” What development, we can’t even maintain our current infrastructures and we now want to build new ones or unnecessarily break down old ones for the sake of building new ones.” She went on to tell us about how she snuck into Kidwai Nagar to have a look for herself regarding the NBCC’s “replantation efforts”, “No plantation was done at all, they’ve only recently dug up sites to show that there’s work being done in the name of plantation. Moreover, they’ve cut down trees and put up artificial ones.”
The repeated claims by the centre, NBCC and the Aam Adami Party about growing saplings in another part of town for every tree they cut down is ridiculous or as Bhavreen so mildly puts it “Crazy!”. The officials are cutting down healthy trees which are decades old only to grow trees/ shrubs that are foreign, thirsty i.e. they require more water to grow and contribute very little to the city’s ecosystem. Moreover, these “trees” too will take years to grow.
What will happen to the city till then? How is one to get fresh air in the world’s most polluted city without there being any sort of proper vegetation. Although Delhi has the second-highest tree cover as a percentage of total area among states, it doesn’t have a Forest Policy. In the absence of such a policy, Delhi had created the Greening Delhi Action Plan (GDAP) in 1997-98. But as per the CAG report, a new action plan hasn’t been created since 2007-08, while the Tree Authority of Delhi the statutory body responsible for ensuring the protection of trees in the capital, has met only once since July 2013. Moreover, the tree cover report doesn’t point out Delhi’s increasing loss of actual forest land.
You can watch the video of the confrontation that took place at Sunder Nagar Below.