Where: The Capital city of New Delhi, India

March 26, 2007: Imagine you are in a city where there are a lot of trees, large parks, open spaces, playgrounds. Slowly, the city starts filling up with more and more people. These people need houses. They need transport, to get from one place to another. They need more schools, more hospitals, more office buildings, more markets, more space. How will they get this space, and who decides which space to use?

Sitting in an office, somewhere in this city is a group of people called town planners. They work for the government. Their job is to prepare a plan for the city marking different spaces for different uses. These planners are supposed to do just that — to plan. They have to plan for the future — for when the city will have more people and less space. For instance, if they decide that a particular piece of land will be used for building 100 houses, then they have to also plan for the fact that these 100 houses will, in the years to come, have at least 300 cars.

Trees of Delhi - Under the Axe!
Trees of Delhi – Under the Axe! [Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli]
One of the biggest problems in big cities is that of traffic jams. Take a city like Delhi. Delhi has more cars than the total number of cars in the three Metro cities of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. It’s roads are choc-a-bloc with cars, buses, rickshaws, cycles, scooters, motorcycles, and even cows. The introduction of the Metro in some parts of the city has eased the problem a bit. But there are still too many people on the road. So, the government decided to go in for large scale road-widening and the introduction of the High Capacity Bus System (HCBS). The HCBS sounds fantastic — a lane just for high-capacity buses, another one for pedestrians and cyclists and two lanes for motorised vehicles.

Where would you introduce such a system? On roads that are the busiest, and that connect important parts of the city. But, here’s the catch. The first to face the axe, literally, for these “improvements” are the silent citizens of our city: trees and the poor, both cannot raise their voices when they are uprooted in the name of development.

— About 30,000 trees have been cut for Metro Phase-I, National Highway Project, High Capacity Bus Service corridor, flyovers, underpasses, subways, and general road widening. This number has been given by Mr Ravi Agarwal who is a member of Trees for Delhi. This is a group of people who spent the last few months collecting information about each tree that is “marked for death”. Some of these trees are more than 70 years old, and their canopies arch gracefully over some of Delhi’s finest roads. They provide shade, homes and food for birds, and are a part of Delhi’s shrinking green lung.

— In Sundar Nursery alone, 1114 trees, some of them more than 70 years old, will be cut.

— Old trees are irreplaceable. These trees are the homes of birds like kites, which perform the scavenging function of the vultures, that have disappeared. The familiar sparrow is already a rare sight in Delhi.

— Old trees, like the ones in Central Delhi, are not there just because they are beautiful; they play a vital role in the health of the city.

The government says that for every tree that is cut, they will plant 10 trees. But where? But the people would like to know:

— Where were the trees cut, and where was the plantation done? Normally, tree planting drives happen in places that are far away from the place where the trees are cut.

— What species were planted and were they suited to the climate or soil? Often, the trees selected for planting are not suitable to the climate or the soil.

— What is their survival rate? Very often young trees die within the first year. But, as far as the government is concerned, in their record books, those trees have been planted. Their conscience is clear.

— Have the planners thought of other ways to solve the city’s transport problem, without having to axe so many trees?

It is time the people of the city were taken into confidence. We need wider roads. We need the Metro. We need a good public transport system. We also need a green Delhi, if we are not to get choked by pollution. Have the planners thought of how to balance these needs?

Meanwhile, Trees for Delhi, and other groups continue their campaign to save the trees of Delhi. If you want to add your voice to theirs, add your name to this online petition to the Chief Minister of Delhi. Log onto http://www.gopetition.com/online/11474.html

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