Just a few metres on the narrow trail that starts opposite the cemetery in Dwarka’s Sector 24, outlines of dry trees, their crisp leaves hanging lifelessly, begin to appear on the right. A year ago, these trees were growing alongside what is now the under-construction Dwarka Expressway, which will connect Mahipalpur in Delhi to Kherki Daula toll plaza in Gurgaon.
The delayed project, which aims to ease the pressure on the Gurgaon expressway, will eventually see over 10,000 trees being transplanted. The first 3,800 were transplanted under the first phase in different areas in Dwarka.
Tree transplantation is not new to the city — the first such project was undertaken in 1972 when trees from Zakir Hussain Marg and Ring Road were transplanted outside Pragati Maidan. Since then, several people and government departments have tried to transplant instead of cutting trees, but the Dwarka Expressway is the first project where the exercise has been undertaken at this scale.
And with the Delhi government passing the Tree Transplantation policy earlier this month, it might not be the last. As per the policy, building agencies must transplant 80% of the trees they remove.
Environmentalists have expressed apprehensions about the policy, pointing to the survival rate and health of transplanted trees. But the Delhi government maintains transplantation will be considered only after exploring the possibility to keep the tree where it is. “The policy has a provision that the agency carrying on transplantation should maintain the trees, and if they cannot maintain at least 80% of the trees, the payment of the agency will be stopped,” said Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai.
The tract of land in Dwarka is testimony to how difficult the process is. While younger plants have managed to hold on, most of the older ones are dry and dead. Each transplanted tree has a number assigned to it and painted on it to keep track – the dry ones all have a serial number. Transplanted trees include silver oaks, sheesham, neem, ficus and alstonia.
Under Package 1, Omender Singh Sirohi, deputy project manager, National Highways Authority of India, said 4,425 out of 9,135 trees have to be transplanted. Under package 2, this number is 5,717 out of 9,417 trees.
Of these, a large number were planted at Sector 24; officials said the exact number was not immediately available. The site belongs to DDA, but for the first three months, the agency hired to transplant the trees is responsible for its upkeep. Now, NHAI is the agency responsible.
“So far, 3,800 trees have been transplanted. It is a very large number and I agree that many of them have not survived. A lot of things have to be planned when you are talking about so many trees being transplanted, the most important being the timing. The monsoon and the post-monsoon seasons, before it gets too cold or too hot, are ideal. The trees could not be watered for several months because of Covid as we did not get permission to send tankers to the area. That was a setback,” he said.
Outside the plantation area, the guard said several people had started to steal dead trees for firewood and one passage into the area had to be closed off.
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