There has been a flurry of conciliatory statements from the govt., even from the central urban minister himself, assuring Delhiites that no trees will be cut in the ongoing South Delhi redevelopment and that one million new trees will be planted to ensure Delhi’s green cover. This follows citizens’ protests at the proposed cutting of nearly 16,000 trees in Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Sarojini Nagar.
“I chaired a meeting of all stakeholders where NBCC/CPWD have been asked to rework & redesign the plans. We will also go ahead with compensatory plan of planting 1 million trees within the next 3 months,” tweeted Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on 28 June.
Sounds good? Not if you go by past record of these and other such top-notch building agencies of the govt. Just a couple of months ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) – the country’s top audit institution – published a report about Delhi (Report #3 of 2018).
It revealed that between 2015 and 2017, 11 major agencies were granted permission to cut nearly 12,000 trees in Delhi. This meant that they had to do compensatory afforestation of about 1.29 lakh new trees elsewhere. Audit test checks showed that together these agencies managed to ‘plant’ just about 41,000 trees. That’s a mere 31% of the target.
The agencies include the NBCC Ltd., which is redeveloping the three South Delhi colonies of Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Sarojini Nagar which provide accommodation to central govt. employees.
There is even some doubt about whether the trees were actually planted, and if so, are the recorded numbers correct. The CAG itself pointed out that “NBCC obtained permission to fell 1,123 trees during 2014-17 for East Kidwai Nagar Project on security deposit of Rs. 4.51 crore. District Conservator of Forest (South) had issued this permission but the division did not do any compensatory tree plantation during 2014-17 whereas NBCC planted 1,354 trees against a requirement of 8,165 trees. There was no evidence in the files of the Forest Department to show whether it ensured tree plantation by NBCC.”
Similarly, it noted that National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) cut 3261 trees while widening and making a 8-lane Delhi-Meerut Expressway which was recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi with much fanfare. NHAI paid Rs.24.83 crore to DDA to plant 40,000 trees on its land at Tughlakabad. However, DDA had planted just 2000 trees till August 2017, the deadline. Again, the forest department had no record of this.
CAG also noted that agencies seem to be giving incorrect or misleading information to the courts. Giving the example of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the CAG report said that it cut 1162 trees and was supposed to plant 11620 trees as compensatory afforestation. DMRC told the High Court that it had planted 5 lakh saplings during 2000-2015 of which 21,000 were in 2014-15. However, the forest department records checked by CAG showed only 16,718 trees were planted in all during 2014-15, of which only a part could have been compensatory afforestation for DMRC.
With this history, can one take the lofty promises of the govt. of planting a million trees seriously?
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