Greening Delhi

New Delhi July 10 Perhaps, a sense of crisis is not enough till it becomes a full-blown emergency in our country, leading to drastic decision-making. Finally, following the furore over tree-felling for urban redevelopment, both Central and State agencies have now decided to plant 31 lakh trees around the periphery of Delhi to form a protective dust barrier, a carbon sink and a thermostat of Delhi’s ambient benchmarks. What distinguishes this drive from the routine afforestation efforts is that officials have decided to plant saplings and shrubs of native species like mango, mahua, peepal, neem, amla, jamun andamaltas, on a war footing to take advantage of the monsoon and ensure the process is completed within two years. Afforestation drives can never replace fully grown mature trees and have so far usually been a mechanical exercise without long-term assessment of survival. This time the newly-planted urban forest cover, while being nurtured by the different agencies for two years, will be subjected to a unified survival audit thereafter. First of all, the growth of a healthy tree is dependent on other environmental benchmarks like complementary soil quality, the soil composition, rocky or pervious, the nutrient ratio, interdependent tree species, which increase diversity besides replenishing each other’s nutrient balance, and most importantly humus which takes decades to form and settle as a sheath for new vegetation. Developing an eco-system, complete with its own biowealth, flora and fauna, takes even longer. And given Delhi’s already decadent desertification and soil degradation, we need to culture may be some newer adaptive species. The long incubation of regrowing a forest is one of the reasons why you do not see the 0.3 per cent increase in  Delhi’s forest cover, which is basically patchy scrubland while there has been a decline in moderate and intense green cover. It is now a given that only communities that are willing to adapt to climate change will be better prepared for its impact. So a public-private participation model needs to be worked out in consultation with tree experts where everybody becomes a stakeholder in the maintenance and growth of greens. There needs to be awareness drives at the community level to address knowledge gaps targetting health, well-being and economic benefits of raising an urban forest. New York’s lushest forest, Prospect Park, was entirely man-made with lake, woods, ravines and meadows, each hillock crafted and greened to cut out any view of the city skyline. This was done over 150 years ago. Without machines. Now we have tools. Just add the human resource. And a collective will.