A 100-acre area between SP Marg and Vandemataram Marg near Karol Bagh has been chosen to launch the Delhi government’s ambitious plan to rid the Ridge of vilayati kikar. The government had first proposed the plan in March last year. Vilayati kikar (scientific name prosopis juliflora) is a plant native to Mexico, ecologists say. It was brought to Delhi by the British in 1920s, when New Delhi was being built. The tree has deep roots and monopolises water and sunlight, effectively killing off any competition, especially Delhi’s native trees. An allocation of Rs 12.21 crore has been set aside from the the Ridge Management Board fund, and the project will be complete within a five-year period. The first phase will start in July this year and be completed by March 2019, said a government official.
According to the Delhi government, the Ridge is spread over 7,777 hectares. Of this, experts at Centre for Environment Management and Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) who will carry out the project said, over 80 per cent is covered by vilayati kikar. “The area we will redevelop is 482 acres in the heart of the Ridge. In the first phase, work on a 100-acre stretch on SP Marg — between Dhaula Kuan and Rashtrapati Bhawan — will be undertaken. A community of 30 different native plant species will be planted. Our aim is to open one section to the public within a year,” said professor C R Babu, who heads CEMDE.
The plan also includes walkways, cycle tracks and recreation centres so that people can connect to the Ridge and point out any encroachments.
“Eventually, we also plan to start peacock and jackal safaris. We are also hoping that within five years, 400 bird species, including migratory ones, will return to the Ridge. Kikar does not attract any birds and they have all disappeared from the Ridge over the years, along with native plants. The saplings, which will be 3-6 feet tall when planted, will be sourced from native forests from Gujarat to Haryana. All these species have disappeared from the Ridge,” said Babu.
CEMDE has been granted the project as they have successfully carried out a similar removal at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park in Wazirabad.
“Kikar trees will be trimmed and open spaces created for planting native species underneath them. Once the planted seedlings establish, kikar trees will be gradually be eliminated. If we cut off access to sunlight, the tree starts to wither,” said a senior forest department official.
According to ecologists, vilayati kikar is of little ecological value, is not a big sink for carbon dioxide and is water intensive.