NAIN SINGH imagines a jeep driving through thick forests. “Like in the films,” he says, on a very hot Tuesday afternoon, as he walks down a carefully carved out path, pointing at plants that barely reach his hip. Singh, the caretaker and a Delhi Forest Department staffer, has initiated a conducted tour of the ‘Taj Enclave City Forest’, inaugurated with much fanfare in east Delhi’s Geeta Colony recently.
The film scene he refers to is how Singh imagines this ‘city forest’ will become in the years to come, which, for now, really just looks like a picturesque park becoming popular amongst residents of the area. The Delhi Forest Department seems to have the same vision. “In five to seven years, we will begin to see these plants develop crowns — the first signs of them becoming trees,” a forest department official tells The Indian Express.
“City forests are spaces used to plant tall trees, three by three metres apart, and mostly of the indigenous variety,” the official says. ‘City forests’ — a term coined in Delhi under the Sheila Dikshit government — is a generic term for green spaces developed by the Delhi Forest Department in the midst of an urban infrastructure. The Taj Enclave one is no different — set in between a large group housing complex on one side, a busy flyover on the other side, with a high tension 11,000 volt cable running parallel to it.
The board outside announces that it is spread across 1.175 hectares and boasts that 2,250 plants and shrubs have been planted on the premises. On Tuesday afternoon, Singh and his colleague, Vijay Pratap Singh, the contractor who claims to have developed many of Delhi’s city forests, argue over Australia. “There are some species planted here which are native to Calcutta, Dehradun and Australia,” Singh says.
Vijay interjects: “The name of the species is Australian something. It didn’t come from Australia.” It was Vijay who was tasked with the responsibility of converting land filled with construction waste into a city forest seven months ago. The land was handed over to the forest department by the Delhi Metro as part of its compensatory plans to offset trees it tore down to expand the city.
So, Vijay and his army of labourers from places like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan compacted the malba, stacked mud over it, and began to lay down the city’s latest ‘forest’. “There is even an insect house here and a stretch of medicinal plants,” he says as he walks past, pointing at ideas that came from “higher authorities” and have now transformed into tangible things enjoyed by the public.
He shows off the cacti garden under the high tension wires: “We have tried to create a little garden here too, but we have cordoned it off so nobody ventures inside. It’s dangerous.”