Delhi Allowed Over 60,000 Trees to Be Cut for Roads, Buildings, Metro Between 2015 and 2021: Report

The Delhi government has invoked Section 29 of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act – which is an 'exception clause' – to grant permissions for general purposes like building construction.

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New Delhi: As the heated discussion on Delhi-NCR air pollution has taken a pause amid an unprecedented heatwave, a clean air initiative in its report has revealed that the Delhi government permitted the felling of over 60,000 trees between 2015 and 2021.

The report titled Tree Felling Permitted in Delhi (2021-2015) under Section 29 of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994 was released last month by Warrior Moms, a collective of mothers fighting for children’s right to breathe clean air. The report’s findings are based on data collected from published gazette notifications.

The report comes at the time when Delhi is suffering gravely from pollution and an increasing number of residents are struggling with breathing disorders. In November last year, doctors had warned that the number of children admitted to hospitals for breathing issues jumped threefold in 10 days. At this time, Delhi was declared as the world’s most polluted capital for the third straight year.

According to the report, Delhi’s forest department granted permission to cut 60,443 trees between 2015 and 2021 by exempting various areas of the NCR from the provisions of the Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994 (DPTA).

The Act seeks to provide for the preservation of trees and contains various provisions for their protection and punishment for offences.

The department in 2019 granted permissions for cutting 20,474 trees in the city. In 2021, the number of trees allowed to be cut increased to 20,970.

The numbers have been consistently rising since 2015 when 1,030 trees were cut, 3,261 in 2016 and 7,231 in 2017. In 2018, 3,973 trees were allowed to be cut and 3,504 trees in 2020.

The permission to fell trees in Delhi-NCR was granted mostly for road, building and metro construction.

At least 30,224 permissions to cut trees were given for road construction, followed by 19,229 for building construction, 5,425 for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation projects, 3,163 for Regional Rapid Transit System and other Railways, 1,811 for water treatment projects, and 591 for laying of transmission lines.

Also read: Air Is Bad Outside? You Might Not Know That It’s Probably Bad Inside as Well.

Interestingly, only 404 trees were allowed to be transplanted in November last year for the parliament building expansion, or the Central Vista Redevelopment project, which drew criticism when air pollution levels were at peak in the national capital.

In Pragati Maidan, at least 98 trees were allowed to be cut in 2018 for the Mathura Road to Mahatma Gandhi Marg Integrated Transit Corridor. At least 1,713 trees were allowed to be cut in 2017 for other projects in the area. In the same year, permission was granted for cutting 99 trees for the Defence Pavilion at Pragati Maidan.

In 2016, the forest department granted permission to fell 3,261 trees for the Delhi-Meerut Expressway.

Exemption clause used to grant permissions

An advocate, who has worked on the subject of tree felling in Delhi, told The Wire that instead of invoking Section 29 of the DPTA as an ‘exception clause’, the forest department has invoked it for general purposes like building and road construction. Also, in such clauses the number of trees to be felled is not so high.

“Section 29 of the DPTA should ideally only be invoked with great care and caution [to grant such permissions] and is usually used for commercial plantations and other agricultural purposes. This is substantiated by the fact that Section 9 of the DPTA contains a detailed mechanism for regulating felling of trees.”

While this report provides an indication of the number of trees which may have been felled, it does not include data on tree felling permitted by the Tree Officer under Section 9 of the DPTA and other illegal tree felling in contravention of the Act. It is feared that the number of trees actually felled are in excess of the numbers in the gazette notifications.

Also read: Air Crisis: India’s Toothless Pollution Response, Delhi-Centric Discourse to Blame

Forest department’s data on tree felling

Incidentally, Delhi’s forest department has not uploaded comprehensive data on tree felling on its website despite clear directions in this regard by the Central Information Commission through its order dated November 15, 2010.

The department has also ignored directions of the Delhi high court dated May 25, 2015 in writ petition (C) 827/2015 which called for providing details of tree felling in public domain.

Earlier, a report titled “Climate Change 2022”, released by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on February 27, had stressed on the disastrous impacts of climate change that may be felt in India. “Globally, heat and humidity will create conditions beyond  human tolerance if emissions are not rapidly eliminated; India is among theplaces that will experience these intolerable conditions,” it had cautioned.

However, this report has highlighted how easily permissions have been granted over the past few years for tree felling by Delhi’s forest department that is entrusted with the task of protecting and preserving trees that act as a buffer against extreme climatic conditions.