New Delhi: In a huge relief to the residents of Delhi, the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has now officially cancelled the Centre’s decision of chopping down over 17,000 trees for redevelopment of central government housing projects in south Delhi. The trees were to be cut as part of National Buildings Construction Corporation’s (NBCC), the government-owned real estate development body, to make way for government officers’ houses and a commercial complex around seven neighbourhoods, which include Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar and Netaji Nagar. Opposing the movement, the Delhiites and environmental activists initiated a modern-day ‘Chipko Movement’ to protest and prevent the trees from being cut.
The Lieutenant Governor’s approval to revoke Centre’s permission to cut trees came even as the matter is pending with the Delhi High Court, which indefinitely put on hold the felling of tree on July 4. The court’s direction came after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on July 2 ordered status quo on tree felling in South Delhi colonies (Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Kasturba Nagar, Thyagraj Nagar, Srinivaspuri and Mohammadpur) and directed that no trees would be cut till July 19, the next date of hearing.
Observing that “felling of trees severely impacts and destroys environment”, the green court even questioned the Centre’s plans to replace the trees.
The union minister of state for housing and urban development on July 2 said, “Till the time I am a minister no tree will be cut and for every tree that is cut we will plant 10 trees. Green cover will go up by three times after re-development of seven colonies in South Delhi.”
Notably, the green tribunal took its decision on hearing a plea by NGO – Society for Protection of Culture, Heritage, Environment, Traditions and Promotion of National Awareness seeking a stay on the proposed felling of more than 17,000 trees for re-development of the colonies. The plea claimed that planting of saplings at another location, as compensatory afforestation, would not reduce the burden put on the environment due to the large-scale felling of trees.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also welcomed the decision to protect the green lungs of Delhi. He also took to Twitter and said that Delhi government will embark upon massive tree plantation drive with active participation of people in the coming weeks. It is expected that the government will plant 28 lakh tree and shrub saplings, with emphasis on native and fruit bearing trees.
A big step by Del govt to protect the lungs of Del.
Delhi govt will embark upon massive tree plantation drive with active participation of people in coming weeks. https://t.co/azsffHfBWo
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) July 6, 2018
Delhi’s Environment Minister Imran Hussain also took to social media and tweeted that the Lieutenant Governor has approved the Delhi government’s request to revoke the permission for felling of trees.
Delhi govt has withdrawn the permission granted to NBCC for trees felling in South Delhi projects.
I had strongly recommended to Hon'ble LG on Tuesday & have now received the file with approval.
— Imran Hussain (@ImranHussaain) July 6, 2018
BREAKING – As Supreme Court has declared that decisions of Ministers of Elected Govt will be binding on LG.
The decision to revoke tree cutting permissions for Central Govt project has been signed by LG today.
Such a relief when Elected Govt works as per will of the people.
— Saurabh Bharadwaj (@Saurabh_MLAgk) July 6, 2018
In a note to the Lieutenant Governor, Delhi’s Environment Minister said that agencies have “failed” to carry out necessary compensatory tree plantation and has also “failed” to make available a site to the city forest department for the same, which amounts to “violation of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders”.
Talking about the decision, an environmental activist Chitra Mukherjee said that this last minute reprieve from the government is a relief but at stake here is the fundamental issue of urban governance and accountability.
“At the very inception stage of projects, public consultation should be incorporated in the planning and approval process. Such decisions to axe as many as 17,000 trees by the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) for a proposed housing project, which can drastically affect ecological conditions in the national capital, cannot be taken without involving environmental experts,” she said, adding that the world’s most polluted city with world’s worst air quality cannot afford to lose over 17,000 trees.
“Both the government and the people should not let Delhi become an unlivable concrete jungle by letting authorities shrink its green cover,” she further added.
According to environmentalists, the felling of 17,000 trees would have drilled a severe hole in Delhi’s green cover, and would have further degraded the air quality in Delhi, which is already among the most polluted cities in the world as per a World Health Organisation’s air pollution report released in May.
Due to dust storms in the month of June, the level of PM10 shot up eight times above the permissible limits (100ug/m3) on June 13, according to data provided by the Central Pollution Control Board. However, the monsoon winds washed away the dust and brought the air quality in the satisfactory level (an AQI between 0-50 is considered “Good”, 51-100 “Satisfactory”, 101-200 “Moderate”, 201-300 “Poor”, 301-400 “Very Poor”, and 401-500 “Severe”) for the first time in nearly an year, the Central Pollution Control Board said.
According to scientific research, it has been observed that wherever there is a high density of trees, the quantity of pollutants is low, and the urban trees offer immense benefits towards public health and climate. They are very efficient scavengers of pollutants and dust.