Why not transfer Government flats to the suburbs instead of cutting trees to provide better housing?
Why is it that every time we need the court’s intervention or a mass dharna for the executive to see reason? Isn’t the executive prudent enough to understand the long-term feasibility of its orders and their impact on future generations? So, the Delhi High Court has stayed felling of around 16,000 trees for redeveloping residential facilities for Central Government employees in South Delhi till July 4 and has questioned the Centre’s decision to issue the order. It echoed the sentiment of many communities, who hugged the trees they had grown and lived by over the weekend, asking the very rhetorical question, “Can Delhi afford to cut of trees for the development of roads and buildings?” The AAP and BJP, predictably passed the buck to each other, the former accusing the Centre of clearing the cut, the latter saying non-forest greens in urban areas were the State Government’s concern. This tussle is typical of the status of urban forests around the world, which are both mass insurance and casualty at a time when planners wrap their heads around maximising the potential of growing world cities. NBCC, the state-owned company tasked with redevelopment, argues by erecting vertical condo complexes, it is freeing up more land for increasing green cover, that new saplings would be planted and transplantation/translocation of older canopied trees would happen elsewhere, which by reasonable logic is guaranteed to be outside city limits.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had indeed mandated the planting of saplings — 10 for one big tree — a year before the felling could begin but it isn’t rocket science to understand the counter-productive nature of such a decree, which by the way has gone unpoliced. The old neem, ficus, flame of the forest, jamun or moringa have taken decades to give us a luminescent and protective cover that paved walkways, lined by imported palms, landscaped islands and substitute dwarfs, can never achieve. Native trees act as soil retainers, nourishers, dust barriers and more importantly can adapt themselves despite weather changes. They can cool cities by up to eight degrees, a useful statistic at a time when the government has mandated that ACs will be programmed to 24 degrees. A big tree can absorb 150 kg of carbon dioxide. Trees even revive human spirit and, according to researchers in Toronto, people living on tree-lined streets reported health benefits equivalent to being seven years younger! Combine the cost of energy-saving and health improvement of citizens, and treenomics will outweigh politics.
Translocating trees is like taking a person out of his comfort zone and putting him on a ventilator. Chances are the big trees will wither away if we dislocate their root network, which has developed in response to a particular eco-system, and supplant them in a foreign condition, far away from its native soil. Besides, even if we were to crowd the vacant medians in the outlying areas of the airport, for example, there isn’t enough space, over or under ground, to accommodate all 16,000. Some threatened species might even become extinct. In a bid to accommodate more people inside the city’s tight seams, we tend to forget that we are choking them in the name of letting them breathe. Aren’t our officials equally worried about a green insurance for their children? Agreed Delhi’s bureaucratic enclaves were never planned with the vision that the city and its administrative needs would grow exponentially, but instead of relocating trees, why can’t the babus relocate their residential complexes in the lush environs of the NCR instead, thereby encouraging an urban forest and retaining the city’s carbon sinks? With air quality a matter of concern even in summer, it is time we save the native greens we are left with. Or the city will become a giant dust bowl.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer