No tree census in Delhi in the past decade, RTI reveals

#GS2 #Governance #Environment 

 

There has been no tree census in Delhi during 2010-2020. Also, no data is available on the number of trees in the New Delhi Municipal Council area from 2000-2020, the Delhi government said in response to an application filed by a city-based researcher under the Right to Information Act.

  • The Delhi Tree Authority, a statutory body set up under the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1992, and tasked with carrying out tree censuses, in addition to preserving and monitoring trees, is largely defunct, the researcher was quoted as saying in a Times of India report.
  • The authority had met only thrice since 2013, the researcher further said.

What is the issue?

  • Protests have erupted in Delhi over the felling of over 16,000 trees in government redevelopment yards.
  • Authorities argue that the numbers are exaggerated and in any case, they would plant more trees than are being felled.

What is the government policy?

  • In India’s countryside, forest lands underwent diversion for “non-forest purposes”.
  • These have been compensated for, through a series of laws.
  • The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was the foremost one.
  • The policy culminated in the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) Act of 2016.
  • It assumes that planting a large number of trees would compensate for the loss.
  • However, how effectively will this redress cutting down natural wilderness is uncertain.
  • On the other hand, compensatory afforestation largely exists on paper.

Is Will planting new trees really help?

  • Clearly, compensation is reduced to a matter of counting trees.
  • But an old forest is a whole lot more than the sum of its trees.
  • Plants, fungi, microbes, insects, and animals are all part of a living jungle ecosystem.
  • Recreating this community is not an easy task, as it takes decades.
  • Also, soil with microorganisms and mycorrhiza inhabiting the humus takes 30,000 years to build up.

What are the governance issues?

  • The sole agency for carrying out compensatory afforestation is the Indian Forest Department.
  • Rewilding is possible, but it needs tools, knowledge, and techniques.
  • But, no Forest Department in India has any experience or track record of doing any ecological restoration work of any kind.
  • It is also not taught to foresters in their training.

What is the case with Delhi?

  • Authority - For compensatory afforestation, it is the Forest Department which implements the planting schemes.
  • It is charged with compliance under the CAF Act.
  • But, in a city like Delhi, the Forest Department is confused about what role to play.
  • It is confused in the centre of power and with so many horticultural agencies competing for its natural turf.
  • The Forest Department thus plays little role in managing the green areas of Delhi.
  • This is the case even with the Central Ridge, which is nominally under its control.
  • Afforestation - In Delhi, the land that is made available for afforestation is mostly least arable and degraded.
  • Also, small plots are crammed with a large number of saplings which are not even native trees.
  • Clearly, they cannot be relied upon or sustained, once watering and care are withdrawn.
  • Delhi is one of the cities with toxic air quality in the world.
  • Given this, any development that adversely impacts Delhi’s air quality needs a reassessment.

 

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