Delhi forest department records show the AAP administration has allowed the felling of more than 17,115 trees in three years.
New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government may have scored one against the Centre by cornering it over a plan to cut down more than 16,500 trees for redevelopment projects, but its own record is far from green.
Approximately the same number of trees have been cut in Delhi’s non-forest area since the Arvind Kejriwal government was sworn in, with every single request for tree-felling since 2015 approved by the administration.
According to records maintained by Delhi’s forest department, the administration has allowed the felling of over 17,115 trees in its north, south, and west zones. While not one application has been denied, several remain pending.
In 2015 alone, 8,889 trees were allowed to be cut. The number fell to 3,580 in 2016, of which 1,700 trees were to be cut in the Pragati Maidan area for redevelopment. In 2017, the number of permissions granted again rose, to 4,646.
Over 44 per cent of the trees cut were in the north zone that covers east, north-east, and north Delhi. However, the figure for the north zone may not be entirely accurate since, in many instances, the entry on the number of trees permitted to be cut is simply noted as “some trees” or as “one plus some trees”. While data maintained for the south zone also records the number of requests made, no such entry exists for the other two zones.
Environmentalists have criticised the rampant felling of trees in the city, often filing petitions before the National Green Tribunal. Last week, the Delhi-based non-profit Society for Protection of Culture, Heritage, Environment, Traditions & Promotion of National Awareness (CHETNA) moved the green court against the Centre’s decision to cut 16,500 trees for redevelopment projects that included building accommodation for government employees and a commercial space.
“The problem is that India’s statutory bodies that should be actively protecting the environment have largely become just bodies that give clearances and permissions according to a checklist,” said Vimlendu Jha, a Delhi-based environmentalist.
Jha, also a member of the Ridge Development Authority, a body formed by the NGT to protect Delhi’s ecologically sensitive ridge areas, added that felling of trees was rampant even in the ridge’s forest area despite stringent laws.
“The state government’s posturing on this issue is only to make a political point. No government takes these issues with the seriousness it requires,” Jha said.
The felling of so many trees in Delhi at once evoked an emotive response from the residents of a city besieged by endemic severe air pollution, as a robust green cover is often offered as the first solution to tackling such a crisis.
How do you get a licence to fell?
Cutting a tree in Delhi is no simple affair. According to the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994, any person or government agency has to seek the forest department’s nod and pay a hefty fee for felling, pruning, transplanting, pollarding or lopping a tree.
A request is made to the tree officer along with details of a given piece of land’s ownership, the number and kind of trees to be cut, their girth, and the reason for the application.
After an initial scrutiny, the tree officer assigns an inspection officer to examine the request and file a report. Based on the report, permission is granted after the fee is paid. In 2015, the fee to cut each tree was Rs 34,500, with a refundable deposit of Rs 15,000 for an individual applicant, and Rs 57,000 for each tree with a refundable component of Rs 25,000 for commercial projects.
The refundable deposits are used to ensure compensatory replanting of trees.
While the conservator of forests is empowered to clear requests for felling of fewer than 20 trees, the environment secretary of the Delhi government could permit the cutting of trees in an area of less than a hectare. The lieutenant governor’s nod is necessary for requests above that.