‘Redevelopment cannot happen without either cutting or transplanting trees… Do we want people to live in slums?’https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/nbcc-chief-anoop-kumar-interview-cutting-transplanting-trees-people-slums-delhi-plantation-5329869/

‘Redevelopment cannot happen without either cutting or transplanting trees… Do we want people to live in slums?’

In the process of redesigning the redevelopment plans for seven government colonies in South Delhi, chairperson-cum-managing director of the National Buildings Construction Corporation, Anoop Kumar Mittal, says they are conducting a tree census in Sarojini Nagar to find out the age, trunk girth and species of trees. 

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Has anyone done any study about trees in Sarojini Nagar? It has guava, pomegranate and lemon. Do they have the same ecological value of neem, pipal? But when people get their 10-year-old children to hug these trees, these questions are not asked. (Praveen Khanna)

In the process of redesigning the redevelopment plans for seven government colonies in South Delhi, chairperson-cum-managing director of the National Buildings Construction Corporation, Anoop Kumar Mittal, says they are conducting a tree census in Sarojini Nagar to find out the age, trunk girth and species of trees.

NBCC has grown sharply over the past five years, bagging more projects than ever before. What has changed? 

Five years ago, our order book was between Rs 5,000-6,000 crore. Today it is Rs 80,000 crore. We have pushed harder to get more projects… Five years ago the company was smaller and was working in the niche domain of building- and infrastructure-related projects in a limited area and scope. In 2012, it was listed and when you are listed, you are responsible to stockholders as well… We thought that since people have invested money in the company, it should grow and go into different projects. We have given a profit to people.

We realised redevelopment is a necessity for the country and we aggressively started thinking about that. We undertook projects such as the Purana Qila lake redevelopment knowing very well we would get brickbats for it. But we decided not to worry about that, and that we should justify our position. We also brought in green building projects, which no one was doing in the country earlier.

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How do you respond to concerns over the large number of trees to be cut for redevelopment of seven government colonies?
We have reconstructed housing in New Moti Bagh area and Kidwai Nagar, which we have started redeveloping. By December-end, 4,000 houses will be handed over. When people talk about redevelopment, they talk about tree cutting, but the only solution to the problems in the city — and I should be given weightage on the issue since we are professionals in this field — is planned development. Everybody, even environmentalists, agrees with that…

In Kidwai Nagar, we have three STPs, rainwater harvesting pits. There are no tube wells. Kidwai Nagar is now a planned city. This should be the model.
Trees are important but you can grow trees. You have to see whether people are living in the right kind of conditions. Look at the big parks in the city; I propose that sewage treatment plants should be decentralised and treated water should be used. If you tap a sewage line, you can set up a plant for Rs 2 crore. We don’t need the big sewage treatment plant, we don’t need to rely on the government. Good work being done needs to be publicised. We should also say that trees should not be cut but where it is necessary, it will have to be done.

Has the outrage been more because the number of trees proposed to be cut was so large (14,000)?
If we look at Delhi starting 1911, the population was a few hundred thousand. The situation then and now is very different. That time, the population was 200,000, today it is 2 billion. What do you want? Should these people live here or not? It is possible to have a dense forest in Delhi within five or six years but only if a few thousand people live here. If we want people to stay, we have to give them amenities… The first thing they need is houses. Do we want people to live in slums? Go to any planned colony or city; it is more liveable even without trees. Look at New York, there are very few trees along the streets. This is interspersed with dense tree cover. People have asked why these people can’t live in Narela or Kundli. But when you have people, we have to accommodate them with proper amenities.

The redevelopment plan includes many amenities because of which trees needed to be cut according to the original plan. What was your vision behind this?
Look at the colonies in South Delhi, where even fire tenders can’t enter in the evening. In the seven colonies, we sought to build parking for 70,000 cars. Not every sentence we speak can be interspersed with the word ‘trees’. If people have to live here, they need the proper environment, which includes houses with amenities.

Lets us look at the project in Sarojini Nagar in detail, where the highest number of trees were to be cut. Out of 8,000 trees, did anyone see what kind of trees these are, how old trees are? The High Court also said that old and dangerous trees have to be cut. Has anyone done any study about the species and age of trees in Sarojini Nagar? The area has guava, pomegranate and lemon trees. Do they have the same ecological value of neem and pipal? But when people get their 10-year-old children to hug these trees, these questions are not asked.

The growth in these areas is entirely horizontal, with not even a small area that doesn’t have 10-15 trees. These have been planted by people living there. If such trees are cut, they can be grown again in a couple of years. We need to talk about neem and bargad trees that take time to grow. We have called experts who say many “trees” in the area are shrubs. We need to take this seriously… In the current project, it will be impossible to avoid tree cutting or transplantation. As of now, it has been decided that no trees will be cut, so focus has to be on transplantation. Either we just repair these houses or let them be. Not a single house can be constructed if trees are neither cut nor transplanted.

Has any organisation reached out to give suggestions on how this project can be carried out differently?
No one opposing the project has come forward with any inputs on how redevelopment can be done in a better manner. Neither have we approached anyone. An architect wrote to us raising concerns about the project but when we asked him for suggestions, he did not reply. Several RWAs have written to us in the past two years asking us to redevelop their colonies because they understand that this is the new face of development. In any discussion, one must take the side of development. The way Delhi and NCR has grown, there is no place for a jungle in the outskirts of Delhi, which is how other cities in the world have done it.