Are the authorities themselves listening?
Trees are a symbol of healthy ecosystem and the presence of large number of trees in any locality, town, district or city is an indicator of good health and prosperity. The Constitution of India provides for the Right to Life, which has also come to mean the Right to healthy environment. The latter can only be secured through maintaining existing trees and planting new ones. Yet, the various municipal and civic agencies in the NCT of Delhi continue to remain oblivion to the sorry state of concretized trees across India’s National capital. It is most unfortunate to note that action for the protection of trees is coming only when concerned citizens are moving the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and urging the Court to ensure the protection of the trees. It is even more unfortunate that despite the NGT directions, not much is being done by the civic authorities so much so that even the Hon’ble bench of the NGT has had to angrily tell the civic agencies to take the matter seriously.
As if that wasn’t enough, the city administration thinks that the solution to the ever increasing number of cars on Delhi roads is to widen existing roads or create elevated corridors. Such interventions are not only a policy disaster, they are also coming at the cost of thousands of trees. As noted by a Delhi Greens report as well as the Expert Committee constituted by the NGT, the most recent of these elevated corridors could remove trees from an area where there is no other green cover in the vicinity. With the green cover removed, and number of cars increasing due to the elevated corridor, this will only invite greater respiratory problems for the residents of that locality. This case too had to be dragged to the Court even when securing the good health of citizens is a job of the Government that they have chosen.
Coming back to the issue of the deconcretisation of trees, the Court order first instructed all the municipal agencies in Delhi (of which there are many) to deconcretize the trees in their respective municipal/civic limits. The prescribed date passed and as noted by the NGT, no significant work was done in this direction. Another order was passed, a new date was issued, this time with a threat of ‘either do the job or go to jail’. The latter certainly had its impact, but instead of doing the job more efficiently, the municipal agencies had other ideas. The way to deconcretize a tree is through careful excavation by individual workers. However, having not done much for weeks after the first Order, the municipal agencies are now reportedly using heavy machinery like the JCBs to carry out instant deconcretisation of trees. This is damaging the trees even more and 2 Peepal trees in South Delhi have already been reported to have collapsed after the destructive attempt at deconcretisation using JCB machines.
The deconcretisation of trees issues is being highlighted by several citizens activists and organisations like Compassionate Living, Delhi Greens and many more. The recent up-scaling of this issue has been possible by a legal petition made to the National Green Tribunal by citizen activist Mr. Aditya N Prasadh (& Ors.) well before the onset of the monsoon rains in Delhi. What is most unfortunate is that during the last hearing of this case in the NGT, it was informed to the NGT that the civic and municipal agencies are using heavy machinery to deconcretize the trees which could harm the trees instead of securing their growth. The NGT had instructed the civic authorities to avoid the use of JCBs for deconcretisation especially if it is harming the trees. It now remains to be seen if the civic agencies will continue to throw heavy machinery on trees after the recent incidence of the collapse of trees in CR Park, or would develop a shift in attitude by doing the job of tree protection that they are supposed to do anyways.
The bigger question here is that why is it that this struggle to save the trees of Delhi is actually a struggle? Why don’t the civic agencies see it as their responsibility to protect and safe guard the trees since doing this means protecting the safe guarding the health of individual citizens. Why do organisations and concerned citizens need to move the Court and why is it that even after the Court’s direction, there is not much being done to protect and ensure the survival of trees? Trees only give, they do not take away anything. The services they provide is priceless and their presence is both required and healing. It should therefore be a mandate of every municipal agency, civic authority and government department to protect trees by simply letting them grow.
Image by Ben Dalton via Flickr