Save Delhis Trees, Do Not Sacrifice this heritage for transport sign now

Save Delhis Trees, Do Not Sacrifice this heritage for transport

Open Appeal to the Honble Chief Minister of Delhi

Delhi without Roadside and Colony Trees is Unacceptable to its Citizens

March 12, 2007

Dear Honble Chief Minister

As citizens of Delhi who have a long-term stake in the future of this city, we are writing to you to help save Delhis green heritage its age-old trees that give the city its character and identity.

Delhi's famed green lungs, the hundreds of thousands of trees that line the citys roads, are today under brutal assault. Old trees, flowering trees, trees which provide shade to walkers and hawkers, children and adults, which protect the residents of colonies from noisy roads and polluting vehicles, trees which bloom in glorious colours in winter, summer, autumn and spring, which bring birds and their nests to our neighbourhoods, are being cut and hacked for transport corridors. People find that the trees they have grown up with have suddenly vanished one fine morning. Someone is making decisions about our neighbourhoods, but those who live in those neighbourhoods are neither consulted about those decisions, nor informed about them.

In recent months thousands of healthy trees have been cut or dug out in the name of traffic de-congestion and projects such as the Metro and the High Bus Capacity Corridor. But this is not just another story of urbanization in conflict with the environment. It is also the story of the loss of voice that people feel people who have called this city their home for generations. It is a brute reminder of the disenfranchising and top-down way that those at the helm are implementing policy.

More specifically:
1. Delhis entire landscape is changing at a mad pace and on an unprecedented scale with multiple types of constructions About 30,000 trees have already been cut for Metro Phase-I, National Highway Project, High Capacity Bus Service (HCBS), flyovers, underpasses, subways, and general road widening. The Metro has three more phases and the HCBS five more routes planned. For the HCBS, some 2500 trees will be removed in phase one alone, and many more in the subsequent five phases
2. By the time the 2010 Commonwealth Games start, a significant part of Delhis green cover will have disappeared from its current locations, and many thousand trees would have died.
3. The citys parks are being converted into manicured spaces with no space for birds and other life forms. Some parks have been converted into tree-less parking lots.
4. In Sunder Nursery alone the city will lose 1000 trees if the planned high-speed tunnel is constructed. The nursery is home to 114 tree species; many found nowhere else in Delhi.

Trees are not an add on to the citys design. They are intrinsic to Delhis very identity and history. They are our childrens heritage. They provide nesting spaces for diverse bird life including black kites which perform critical functions earlier performed by vultures that have now disappeared. The house sparrow is also no longer to be seen. What will Delhi be without birds and birdsongs? Indeed, trees should be treated like the elderly in families they need to be cherished and placed at the centre of all designs for the city. In fact many old trees need to be given a heritage status since they are irreplaceable, no matter how many new trees may be planted in lieu. Yet in the blind march of so-called progress, trees are being uprooted, shunted out, old species allowed to die, replaced at best by decorative fast growing varieties or not at all.

Many areas where the trees are being cut resemble a war zone with hundreds of trees on any stretch of road being tagged for death. The people living in these areas have been caught unawares and are in a state of shock. Suddenly, the trees that they and their children have lived with for decades are disappearing. Shouldnt they be consulted before their green cover is destroyed?

Procedurally, an infrastructure development project needs an environment impact assessment. This should involve an assessment of all environmental costs, including the number of trees to be cut for the project. Was this done for the Metro, or the HCBS, or other ongoing and proposed transport corridors? If so, these assessments need to be made public.

As citizens we would also like to ask: where trees were cut, was compensatory afforestation done? If so how many trees were planted, of what species, at what locations? What was their survival rate? We believe afforestation done in some remote corner of the city cannot substitute for the loss of tree cover in the locations where people live. Were the residents compensated when the trees were cut?

Undeniably we need some solution for all those who commute long distances, including many of us. But we believe this does not have to be at the cost of these trees. We need more sane, less environmentally costly solutions. We would welcome alternatives which could accommodate the other legitimate needs of the city along with maintaining its tree lines.

We the citizens of Delhi, strongly object to the mindless cutting of trees without due consultation or consideration. We object not only on environmental grounds but also because trees define Delhi's heritage, its historic identity, and our childrens common future.

In a constructive spirit we would like to help find solutions. But these solutions need to fit the context and location. They cannot be in terms of one-solution-fits-all, decided unilaterally and imposed top-down.

We urge the government to:

a) Bring to an immediate halt all tree felling in the name of progress and development
b) Set in place consultation mechanisms which involve local residents, planners, and other concerned citizens, so that any tree cutting is subject to prior review.
c) Make a full disclosure of the trees which have been cut over the past three years, the locations of compensatory afforestation, their species, and their year-wise survival rate.
d) Make a full disclosure of the trees slated to be cut now, the location specific justification for this for any transport corridor or road widening, and the efforts planned to avoid the cutting.
e) Have clear guidelines for leaving adequate space around trees to allow them to breathe and take in rain, where new roads are built.
f) Avoid the cutting of roadside and colony trees for other utilities in the city, and ensure that such plans accommodate and not destroy existing trees
g) Propose alternatives that marry the citys legitimate needs with the preservation of trees.
h) Ensure that all future infrastructure development integrates existing trees, and more generally enhances Delhis greenery and natural topography. Designs must be also friendly for pedestrians, cyclists and children, the disabled and the elderly.
i) Ensure accountable and transparent processes in designing and executing projects like the Metro, HCBS, flyovers, etc. Citizen participation must be integrated into the decision-making process from the projects inception.

Signed by the Citizens of Delhi and by
Trees for Delhi (a network of 50 Delhi-based NGOs and citizens)

New Delhi

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