After it came to the fore that at least 77,000 trees were either cut or transplanted in Delhi in the last three years, environment experts have started questioning the findings of the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) that showed rising forest cover in the national capital.
According to government data submitted to the high court recently, Delhi forest department granted permission to cut or transplant at least 77,000 trees, or three trees every hour, for developmental work in the city in the last three years.
Whereas, an ISFR report released by the Union Environment Ministry on January 13, 2022, said Delhi’s green cover has increased from 21.88 per cent to 23.06 per cent of its geographical area in the last two years.
Speaking about the ‘contradicting’ statistics, green activist Bhavreen Kandhari told PTI that the purported green gains are largely coming from the Forest Survey of India’s “problematic and contradictory redefinition of forest.”
“The new definition of forest would lead to an increase in clear areas being counted as forest. However, what land cover types might it include on the ground, or how valid was their inclusion as forests, remained extremely hard even for experienced field researchers to assess,” she said.
She further stated that from all available evidence, it would seem that the ISFR’s counting of tea gardens, coconut plantations, built-up areas, desert scrub, or some golf courses as forest is no accident. “It seems a rather considered and deliberate stance,” she added.
The ISFR said that Delhi’s tree cover increased from 129 square km in 2019 to 147 square km in 2021. The overall green cover (forest cover and tree cover) increased from 324.44 sq km to 342 sq km, according to the report.
On the other hand, the data that was submitted in response to orders on a contempt plea filed by an RTI activist against the concretisation of trees in east Delhi’s Vikas Marg area, showed that Delhi forest department granted permission to cut or transplant at least 77,000 trees and that a large number of offences registered for illegally cutting, damaging, pruning and concretising trees in the last three years are pending and the offenders have not submitted fines in most cases.
Experts have warned and alerted governments about the “utter failure” of transplanting trees the way it is being carried out, environmentalist Ravina Kohli said.
She said that development at the cost of the quality of our environment is a “lose-lose” effort and will “boomerang” on governments.
“Delhi has been decimated over the years by unmindful decisions of all governments at the cost of public health. The need for proper environmental impact assessment has been ignored. The most polluted capital in the world needs the most stringent conservation of greens, trees and water bodies,” Kohli said.
She said that a lot of data being published on air quality, tree planting, effects of optical measures for control of emissions are “highly questionable” and can at best be termed political “greenwashing”.
“The count of trees can be statistically different from the definition of forest cover/green cover. It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” she said.
Vijay Dhasmana, an environmentalist who has actively participated in ecological restoration projects, told PTI that forest cover could be tree or spice plantation, farm land, coconut plantation and hence there has been “criticism of the FSI where they have shown that the forest cover has increased. “While some of it is true, as the definition of forest cover has changed. However, it is not necessarily forest cover, it is just a tree cover. So technically, the area has not increased but forest cover has increased, which basically is a greenwash,” he said.
“The Delhi government must create green spaces in the city and encourage biodiversity by planting local trees and letting wildflowers grow,” Greenpeace India’s Avinash Chanchal said.
He said that authorities must expand existing green areas and introduce new ones in all neighborhoods following sustainable urban planning principles.