The news that some 16,500 full-grown trees are being chopped off in seven neighbourhood residential areas of south Delhi to for the redevelopment of central government accommodations has come as a shock to the people of Delhi who are already choking thanks to the ’emergency like’ air pollution situation in the city.
Hundreds have joined the protest march under the “Delhi Trees SOS” campaign on social media against the felling of trees and destroying the green buffers in the otherwise congested city.
The vivacious conversations on the conservation of heritage trees are well justified, because, in recent times, Delhi has been the worst victim of deteriorating air quality index. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 13 of the 20 international cities with the worst fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in air pollution are in India, and the mega-metropolis city is at the top of the list. The combination of smoke from stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana and meteorological conditions like wind pattern and temperature inversions with the onset of the winter season has taken a toll on human health; exhausts from automobiles, thermal power plants and high emission vehicles have made it even worse.
Of late, we did see the authorities struggling to combat the rising pollution levels. The odd-even policy made a comeback, parking fees were hiked by four times, the metro announced more trips and DTC hired more buses, schools were closed and civil construction and demolition activities were also banned. A draft action agenda including a 12-point ‘air action plan’ was also formulated by a high-level task force set up under the Central government. Even though these desultory measures failed to put in place an effective control mechanism, they did help to change the attitude of apathy in our people towards health and environment. Trees and forests are the mainstays of sustainable development – there are no two ways about it. But what exactly do we have in mind when referring to sustainability in today’s society is something that we should ponder on.
The air pollution discourses at the government level are seldom driven in terms of its health effects on a community at large. For example, Delhi with 11,297 persons per square kilometre is one of the most heavily crowded cities in the world. Portable purifiers and air filtering masks may provide some relief to a small number of wealthy residents but a vast majority get to breathe only whatever air is available.
Similarly, Delhi’s street workers and pavement dwellers spend their lives on the open streets of Delhi. It is the city’s forests and trees that help them to create a healthy environment to withstand the extreme winters and summers. The point is that urban forestry and green places can do much more than cleaning the befouled urban air and improve the physical and mental health of the rich and poor alike.
Researches show that time spent among trees causes levels of stress hormone cortisol to decrease, lowers the blood pressure, helps boost immunity and improves our mood and attention. So, it’s a crying shame that we are cutting down a huge number of trees to build multispeciality hospitals without even bothering to replant these trees. It’s high time we realise that the trees that are cut to redevelop the cities are actually doing more harm than good to us.
According to the Forest Ministry, the compensatory plantation of trees should be done in the ratio of 1:10 for every tree that is cut. But we do not have any agency to monitor and direct the planting of new saplings and these things are never done. We need to know that our need for forests and green spaces can’t ever get enough. So, taking care to not disturb the fully grown rich line of trees along the roads and near the historical monuments is the least that we can do to benefit humanity and ecology.