Amid the political slugfest over who is to blame for felling of trees in the capital, the Delhi government has underlined the increase in the city’s forest and tree cover. However, the gains have come at the cost of Delhi losing its vital thick forests to ‘developmental activities’.
As per the State of Forest Report 2017 released earlier this year, there has been an increase of 0.3% or 3.64 sq km of forest due to “plantation activities”. But this was restricted to ‘open and scrub’ forests. On the other hand, between 2015 and 2017, dense forest cover declined from 6.94 sq km to 6.72 sq km. Moderately dense forest cover, too, went down from 57.1 sq km to 56.2 sq km in the same period. The reason, as per the report, is “developmental activities”. In fact, the latest report’s assessment of 192 sq km of forest in Delhi is a 13-fold increase in 30 years from the first report that recorded only 15 sq km.
Experts said that it wasn’t just increased plantation, but also a change in methodology in the survey that resulted in these figures. “Satellite images are used to identify green cover as a forest. As a result, natural forests, thicket of weeds or even sugar cane farms, are not differentiated. Also, unlike the 1980s, now even small patches of land — less than 4 sq km — are being counted as forests, as long as it has a 10% canopy density. These were ignored earlier and are now contributing to the official forest cover,” said a forest department official.
Any patch of land larger than a hectare and having a canopy cover of more than 10% is considered a forest, while anything less than a hectare is tree cover. In April 2017, the then environment minister Anil Madhav Dave had informed the Rajya Sabha that more than 15,000 trees were felled in Delhi between 2014-2017 for construction.
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The Delhi government, meanwhile, has started a project to redevelop city forests that have become degraded. AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj added, “Tree cover in the capital decreased between 2009- 2011, but there has been a consistent increase in the past few years.”
Ravi Aggarwal, director, Toxics Link, said dense forests are important for biodiversity to their ability to control dust: “There are multiple layers of forests… they form an ecosystem and provide a micro-climate for different species. The Aravallis, for instance, has arid scrubs that are moderate forests. They are completely endemic, have a cooling effect and support migratory birds.”