Expanding Delhi, Mughals Gave City its First Shave

The following is a news story from the Delhi Newsline by Neha Sinha

Expanding Delhi, Mughals gave city its first shave

New Delhi, June 5: THE next time you blame the authorities for the rise in toxic share in the air, remember this: Delhi first expanded by eating into the green belt back in the Mughal era.

“At the start of the Mughal period, there were luxurious tropical dry deciduous forests (in Delhi), with 10 or 15 different biotic communities,” Prof C R Babu, director emeritus, Centre for Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), said on occasion of the World Environment Day on Tuesday.

And much of the trees disappeared in those years as the Mughals set about “expanding” Delhi, Babu told the Delhi Secretariat today while sharing the Capital’s flora tale over the years.

The CEMDE will now take over the restoration and revitalisation of Delhi Ridge, and will also develop nine city forests.

Besides tropical dry deciduous forests, there were three major types of forests in Mughal-era Delhi, Babu said. “There were the moist deciduous trees, with 40- to 50-feet canopies, including the likes of ‘salai’ and ‘flame of the forest’. Then there were tropical thorn forests, with five or ten different varieties, such as ‘kejri’, six species of ‘acacia’, ‘babul’ variants, and ‘jujiper’ trees among others.”

Delhi those days also had what are called “flood plain or wetland forests”, and Semal, or silk-cotton tree, found a natural ally in Delhi’s environs then, Babu said.

But following the downhill journey in the Mughal period, the British went into a tree plantation drive after shifting the imperial capital to Delhi. Since they wanted more trees, and wanted them to grow fast, Babu said they planted trees like ‘Vilayati Kikar’, a Mexican weed, and Eucalyptus. “Both are not native plants, though they have survived to this day.”

While the eucalyptus has proven to consume too much water, thereby making the surroundings dry, Vilayati Kikar, with no “natural enemies”, thrives in the Ridge.

Interestingly, a common weed seen on roadsides, a shrub with tiny white flowers called the ‘Congress Grass’, came to Delhi most likely in the 1960s or ’70s, along with wheat imported by the then Congress government from the US, Babu said. Therefore, the name: ‘Congress Grass’.

Lending a green touch, children planted saplings of 150 native varieties of trees at DDA’s Yamuna biodiversity park, created by CEMDE. “We need serious action to restore native trees,” said Dr Anupam Joshi, a biologist at the park. “They perform important ecological functions like water recharge and carbon sequestration among others.”

Going native in Ridge, forests
CEMDE has honed in on 50 species of native trees, to be planted in the Ridge and nine areas where it plans to develop forests: Issapur, Rewla Khanpur, Kharkhari Jatmal (the largest at 50 hectares), Sultanpur, Auchandi, Mungeshpur, Qutabgarh, Hindon cut, Ghazipur and Harewali. Work is expected to start this monsoon.


DG Correspondent

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