The Indian central government yesterday (June 3, 2015) announced a massive tree plantation drive to combat climate change. The intent calls for celebration but if the content is anything to go by, the scheme is well on its way to the dustbin of history.
Many such schemes have been introduced earlier too at the state level or by non government organisations (NGOs). However, they have all met with little success. The present scheme aims to first undertake tree census in 200 towns across India and ask the people to plant trees wherever land is available. For this purpose they have asked urban local bodies to find out how much wasteland is available with them that can be used for this purpose.
The catch in the scheme is that apart from Delhi no other metropolis (Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore) have the luxury of space. The tier 2 and 3 towns are further pressed for land. Whatever land is available hangs in a precarious balance due to the needs of ever expanding population and haphazard development.
Even in Delhi the situation is far from ideal. The capital of India has two satellite towns on its southern (Faridabad) and south western (Gurgaon) edge. The space between the three cities used to have lush green patch of forest on the oldest mountain range — Aravallis.
This forest is under tremendous stress due to illegal querying, stone crushers and real estate builders. However, the real reason is expanding population and its basic needs of housing and other resources.
Constant upgrade of infrastructure (road expansion, metro work, housing projects etc) has seen thousands of trees being chopped off in the last one decade. Metro rail has been the biggest culprit. By a rough count in the first two stages of its construction it chopped off 30000 trees. Many of them were more than 50 years old.
Anticipating this large scale expansion of the city the town planners in Delhi made a law of compensatory plantation. For every tree cut another 10 would have to be planted. However, the plantation can be done at designated spots or where the land is available with the forest department or the government.
Here lies the catch. You cut a tree in one locality and plant a tree some 30 kilometres away. It is not going to benefit the locality. Secondly the residents are not going to see whether the plantation was undertaken or not. Most importantly no one knows how many of these planted trees survived and grew up to become a tree.
The metro rail has undertaken compensatory plantation but that has been on the outskirts of the city. As they have brought down 30000 trees they should have planted 300000 trees. However, the jury is still out about the claims and the efficacy of their efforts.
Similarly during the earlier Congress rule Delhi would undertake plantation drive during monsoons. By the fantastic numbers flashed in the government advertisements every year, Delhi should have turned into a rainforest in the 15 years (1998-2014) they ruled the city.
Nothing of such spectacular brilliance ever happened. And the much touted increase in Delhi’s green cover was also debunked as mere statistical jugglery.
These incidents have proved that mere plantation is not enough but a constant vigil and care of the planted trees till they come into their own is of critical importance. How many trees will survive the first six months will decide the quality of green cover an apartment, a neighbourhood or a city will have in the next 5 years.
The reality visible to every Delhi citizen is that trees are being mercilessly cut, its green belt or the ridge area is constantly shrinking and the land available to the forest department itself is shrinking in real terms.
As the pressure of population is increasing even those areas that were earlier earmarked for planting trees and have been developed as parks are now overtaken by development activities. The deer park in Hauz khas, the government park sector 13 RK Puram and a small Delhi Development Authority in the eastern neighbourhood of Mayur Vihar-1 in Delhi have all been overtaken by metro work and they will finally be a part of metro stations or storage facilities.
If Delhi with its open spaces is facing such severe problems imagine the stress faced by cities like Amritsar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Ranchi, Raipur, Itanagar etc.
Apart from follow up on plantation another bigger problem with Indian urban centres is that no one knows when and how the land use pattern would change. Constantly growing residential and other infrastructural demands can make one dispensation earmark an area for park and force the other, with equal ease, to turn it into a parking lot.
In such a scenario where long term planning is anathema and deal-as-you-go planning is the norm people can keep planting trees around the country every year in every nook and corner but it won’t serve any purpose.
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