A tree census for the entire Capital and NCR is needed, say environmentalists

Conservationists in the Capital claim to be fighting a losing battle in the absence of any authentic tree inventory. Though often proposed, Delhi is yet to have a census of its trees, making it hard for those campaigning against their illegal felling and pruning.

While cities like Mumbai, Pune and Chennai have already taken the lead in cataloguing information on their trees, Delhi is yet to make the big start. “There are several land owning agencies in Delhi that are responsible for maintenance of trees. Of them, the New Delhi Municipal Council carried out a tree census in 2005-06 in its areas including trees on roadsides and those in the parks and gardens. But a complete tree census for entire Delhi is still a pending matter,” says Deputy Inspector General of Forests Subhash Chandra, who is also the former NDMC Horticulture Director.

Thus, so far, the sense of Delhi's green cover has been derived mainly from the satellite imagery generated by the Forest Survey of India. A detailed survey inclusive of all its plantations, parks and gardens, trees on the roads and inside the colonies is however crucial to Delhi since it houses a substantial tree cover apart from its forest areas.

“Tree census is definitely important, but we must be clear about what we want to accomplish through it. It is essential for conservation purposes. If we are planting 10 lakh saplings in a year, we must be able to monitor their survival rate, otherwise we would draw a false, inflated picture of the green cover,” says Prabhakar Rao of Kalpavriksh, an environment action group.

A tree census does much more than establishing a tree count. It also gives an idea on the trees' type and health, based on which broader conservation plans can be initiated in a scientific manner. In Delhi especially, where the green areas are always competing against frequent development projects due to utter land scarcity, a tree census becomes even more necessary.

Usually the city's municipal corporation is responsible for a tree census. Delhi, however, with its vast area and multiple agencies would surely need a streamlined plan to rope in all of them under an umbrella organisation to avoid duplicity and lack of coordination. “Ideally, the forest department must be made in-charge for such a monumental task because they are highly trained to deal with ecology. They have the expertise and trained staff to carry out the work, but they definitely need more ground level staff,” says Mr. Prabhakar.

Mr. Chandra echoes, “Delhi Forest Department can be the focal point for imparting training to various agencies with support from Forest Survey of India and Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education. I hope we can get support from many volunteers, who can work under supervision of professionals is required too.”

Though official measures will take their own course, Delhi is not short of tree lovers. A resident of Sarvodya Enclave, Padmavati Dwivedi, who is also the founder of NGO Compassionate Living has been doing a tree count in her colony along with some like-minded people. Their tree inventory is very basic but comes handy. “Numbering a tree helps us to be very specific in our appeal in case a tree is being lopped or disappears. Our model can easily be emulated by other residents and RWAs, and can be encouraged through Bhagidari scheme to protect trees inside the colonies which often die a silent death,” says Ms. Dwivedi.

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