A Picture Worth A Thousand Words: Google Earth image showing a green West Kidwai Nagar (an original Government colony in Delhi) on the left and the redeveloped East Kidwai Nagar “Project” of the MoHUA on the right. Where is the compensatory afforestation?
Of the many things Delhi is famous for, the most spacious are its Government colonies located in New Delhi. These include residential areas such as Lodhi Colony, Laxmi Bai Nagar, Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, parts of Chanakyapuri, the neighbourhood of India Gate and a few adjoining areas. Most of these have been two-storied structures with abundant parks (and parking) all around.
These Government colonies have therefore acted as green buffers for Delhi against air pollution, noise pollution and the congestion and traffic of the city. A walk or drive through these areas would certainly refresh and rejuvenate any soul drenched with the hustle and bustle of the Delhi mega city. But all that is about to change.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MOHUA), Government of India has been working since the last few years to convert these green spaces into high rise jungles of concrete. This is being done by razing the existing buildings to the ground and cutting the trees growing amidst these structures. The cleared ground is then dug deeper for constructing tall buildings to accommodate more people in the same space.
This is ironical for two reasons. First, Delhi today is fighting a losing battle against air pollution. The Air Quality Index is getting from bad to worse and more and more people in Delhi are reporting themselves to hospitals for breathing related disorders. The lungs of children in Delhi are turning black and the city has become a gas chamber. Cutting trees, the only thing known to cleanse this pollution, is out rightly stupid and should actually be unthinkable. The cutting of these larger number of trees or pollution buffers could indeed be the main cause of air pollution in Delhi.
A second reason why the construction of these high rises, which will invite more and more people in Delhi, is that Delhi has already exceeded its carrying capacity. The population of Delhi mega city is more than 20 million today and Delhi should actually start decongesting itself by funding housing projects in the Delhi NCR districts of Panipat, Bharatpur, etc. In fact that is the very reason why the NCR Planning Board exists.
The replacement of two and three storied structures in Delhi with high rise buildings goes against the very vision and objectives of the NCR Planning Board. It will also bring much more traffic in Delhi, increase the already unfulfilled water demand of Delhi and make the already unsustainable growth of Delhi even more unsustainable! Since the NCR Planning Board is very much part of the Government of India, why is another wing of the Government of India not only undermining its own self but also working to add to the already piled up problems of air pollution, congestion and lack of available resources in Delhi?
Can Delhi really afford this “redevelopment”? Is it going to help make the city sustainable? Will the saplings planted for compensatory afforestation survive, and if they do, will they immediately become trees overnight? The answer to all this is a sad no. No matter how green a building the Government may plan to construct, the very fact that these buildings are being constructed after felling large number of trees negates all their benefits. Further, the are only going to bring more cars, more waste and consume more water and more electricity..all of which are already key challenges being faced by Delhi today.
The Government needs to re-strategize, and that is easier hoped than achieved, it is the responsibility of all thinking citizens of India to get in touch with our elected leaders and write to them about what you think. A very good place to begin is the Hon’ble Minister of State of the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Government of India at the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call him and leave a message for him in his Office: 011-23063495, 011-23061162 (Hotline: 250). Lets us save Delhi while we still can.