New Delhi: Is Delhi as green as its government claims it is?
An advertisement issued last week by the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, part of several advertisements that tout the Congress party’s achievements in the state that is going to polls on 29 November, claimed that Delhi posted a 10-fold increase in its green cover.
The ad, which ran in several newspapers including in Mint, said Delhi’s green cover increased from 26 sq. km to 300 sq. km, without specifying a time frame.
There appears to be just one problem with the unattributed claim: The actual increase may be half that. And anecdotally, it is estimated some 100,000 trees were cut in the state for various projects in the past eight years.
The one organization that officially maps forest resources, the Forest Survey of India (FSI), says these figures are based on data collected from the government-published State of Forest Report in 1997 and 2005.
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FSI data show 26 sq. km of forest cover (trees of a certain size and foliage spanning areas greater than 1ha), whereas the 300 sq. km estimate includes forest cover and tree cover (trees outside forest cover, occupying between 0.1 and 1 ha).
Though tree cover estimates are a significant component of a region’s green cover, they were never estimated prior to SFR-2001, according to which Delhi’s tree cover was 40 sq. km. The last official estimate for Delhi’s forest cover, in 2005, was 176 sq. km with a tree cover of 107 sq. km.
FSI doesn’t define the term green cover, though it’s popularly interpreted to mean forest cover.
Forest cover, therefore, increased 6.7 times between 1993-95 (the period for which SFR-1997 data was collected) and 2002-2004 (data period for SFR-2005) and tree cover jumped 2.6 times.
The state Congress president, J.P. Aggarwal, said the numbers were gleaned from the Congress manifesto, which only mentions Delhi increasing the percentage of its geographical area from 3% to 20%. However, the Delhi government website says that “...Delhi’s forest cover has increased from 26 sq. km to 268 sq. km,” also contradicting the official FSI estimates.
Both the Congress and its main rival the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are locked in a too-close-to-call battle for Delhi. Both parties have taken very different approaches to wooing voters, at least in terms of their ad campaigns.
The Congress is projecting its achievements, be it green cover, flyovers or other infrastructure, while the BJP has mounted a campaign essentially aimed at pointing out all the negative issues with the incumbent Congress government.
Delhi ranks second among Indian states in terms of the portion of its geographical area under forest, according to SFR-2005.
Environmentalists also say that post-2004, after which no green cover estimates were made, many trees have been felled because of construction related to the Delhi Metro and, more recently, the controversial Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS). “I’m not sure of the exact number, but a good number of trees have certainly been felled in the last five-six years, for the BRTS and Metro construction,” claims Pradip Krishen, an environmentalist and author of Trees of Delhi.
Ravi Agarwal, director with Toxic Links, another Delhi-based environmental organization, said that a recent right to information query on the number of trees lost in the last eight years put the figure at between 80,000 and 100,000. “I guess about 50,000 of them would have been felled in the last five years,” he claims. The Congress party has been ruling the state for the past 10 years and the BJP for five years from 1993.
Anuj Dayal, a spokesperson for the Delhi Metro Rail Corp., said that 25,507 trees were felled during phase 1 and phase 2 of the Metro’s construction
Delhi’s Forest Act stipulates that for every tree that is felled, 10 saplings must be planted.
“But there’s hardly any monitoring. Technically, the government provides saplings and may be even planting them, but there’s no monitoring after that. A good number of saplings never become trees,” said Govind Singh, with Delhi Greens, a non-governmental organization involved with biodiversity and tree conservation issues.
However, Delhi environment secretary J.K. Dadoo insisted that the green cover in 1997 was 26 sq. km and didn’t acknowledge the contradiction—of the term green cover, implying forest cover in 1997 and meaning forest and tree cover in 2005.
“You can play around with words, if you want. Do you have any idea of the number of saplings we’ve planted over the last few years?” he queried and disconnected the phone.
He, however, added that the 300 sq. km, claimed by the Delhi government also included unpublished estimates by FSI up to 2008.