Sacrificing Trees for Development

About a year ago a staggering item of news came from no place other than the capital of the country that for re-development of seven south Delhi residential colonies as many as 14000 trees were to be cut down. Virulent protests were launched by the people of Delhi against the intention of the authorities to cut the unconscionably large number of trees. They felt if things were allowed to go on in the manner proposed by the government authorities Delhi soon would be converted into a desert town.

Among the seven colonies to be redeveloped were Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar and Nauroji Nagar, etc. All these colonies had houses for lower level officials of the government departments of the Central and Delhi governments. The plan for redevelopment of Nauroji Nagar was most curious. It was planned to demolish all the buildings and erect a massive World Trade Centre. It was a bizarre idea to deprive the lower level officials of their houses calling them decrepit and old and build in their place a swanky new World Trade Centre. 

Fortunately the protests gathered strength and managed to catch the attention of the Housing & Urban Affairs minister who swept the proposal aside and ordered a redesign of the project and ordered no more trees would be felled. But by the time the orders came more than 1500 tree had been felled. The minister was helped in taking the decision because of the extraordinarily large number of trees, 44000, that were permitted to be felled by Delhi’s Tree Authority during the preceding seven years. Currently the whole matter is pending in courts.

If last year it was Delhi this year it is Mumbai in the news for a proposal to fell 2700 trees in a forested area in Aarey. The proposal is to clear the trees to create a stable for Metro cars. Ever since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation Tree Authority gave permission to fell 2700 trees the “Save Aarey” campaign gathered traction. The Brihanmumbai Metro Rail Corporation has been claiming that the area to be clear-felled does not fall in a forest area but the protesters argue that even though the area falls under the Goregaon suburb of Mumbai and has not been declared as a forest the literature documenting the characteristics of the ecosystem in indicates that it can undoubtedly qualify as a forest.

Before 2018 Aarey was a “no-development zone” but this status was later changed by the Maharashtra government. The matter went to court which said that while the government had the right to change the land-use of public lands it was still bound to meet conditions to ensure safety of the environment. Nonetheless, the issue whether it is a forest or not is still pending before the Bombay High Court.

There have been some studies to determine whether Aarey is a forest. As early as 1963 a study revealed hundreds of species of flora that were found only in a forest. Dr. Rajendra Shinde, now principal of St. Xavier College, Mumbai, published a study to determine whether Aarey could be described as a forest on the basis of its flora. More than 100 indigenous species in Aarey are recognized as forest species which have survived only by self-propagation. Some other species found in Aarey are never found outside forests. The study concluded by saying that Aarey falls within the “botanical” definition of forests. 

Apart from flora the forests that are contiguous to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park also have fauna. While BMRC claimed the forests in question were bereft of wildlife naturalists produced a photograph of a leopard on the site. If leopards are there, small game would also be there as without a prey base predators cannot survive in the kind of numbers they are found in the forest.

From all evidence the Aarey forests are forests whether declared as such or not. Since the Mumbai activists have cited alternatives that, if used, would not cause any environmental damage, there are enough reasons for the Metro Rail Corporation to look elsewhere for building its metro cars depot. Quite clearly the Aarey forest needs to be left alone. After all it has taken ages to become what it is today.

People in metro towns too are so concerned about the environment that quite frequently news-breaks reveal protestations against the mulish administration. However in Bhopal, a town that has speedily lost its green cover, there have been no protests for felling of trees by the Smart City Corporation.  Though the Smart City Corporation has been at work for nearly three years, if not more, there is no sign of the smart city till now. But trees have been felled probably to the tune of around 3000. What’s more there have been no protests. People of Bhopal had vehemently protested when the Smart City was going to be sited in Shivaji Nagar. When the location was shifted, it seems, people lost steam and the Smart City Corporation felled trees without let or hindrance.

Similarly the Minto Hall redevelopment by the MP Tourism Development Corporation has taken its toll. The bank of the Lower Lake has been denuded of trees and the place looks so bare. But not a soul raised his voice. That is the way it is in Bhopal – every man for himself.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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