The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Friday told The Indian Express he would act against the eco-task force (ETF) if allegations that they felled trees during plantation of saplings in South Delhi’s Rajokri Forest are found true.
On Thursday, activist-lawyer Sonya Ghosh wrote to the Forest Department, claiming that fully grown trees were removed by the ETF a day earlier. A visit to the site Friday showed thick branches being used as poles for tying barbed wire fences, and trees and shrubs buried under mud and disposed behind a wall demarcating the forest.
Ishwar Singh, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, said it appears the trees have been felled, but added he will visit the spot to verify this. “We will ensure the existing flora is not damaged and will act against the task force officials if required. Existing flora will remain intact, particularly indigenous flora,” he said.
An ETF officer at the site said a JCB machine was used to clear land to plant saplings, and some medium-sized tree bushes were in its way and had to be removed. Singh said the machine was used as the forest ground is rocky, which makes manual digging difficult. “We are using a JCB machine to get things expedited, but every effort will be made to avoid damage to indigenous flora by the machine,” he said.
How a tree is defined
The Delhi Preservation of Trees Act 1994 defines a tree as any woody plant not less than 5 cm in diameter and not less than 1 m in height. It directs that prior permission should be taken from a tree officer before felling of a tree.
He also said land where work is being carried out was demarcated by the revenue department around three months ago and given to his department for plantation of saplings. He said in around 15 years, the area would have a multi-layered forest with various fruit-bearing trees. The role of the ETF, comprising ex-Armymen, is to carry out plantation and to protect the area from encroachment, he said.
Ghosh and some other residents at the site claimed the area was lush with trees before work began. “I’ve visiting the forest since 2007 and it was thickly wooded. There was so much undergrowth; it was so thick you couldn’t even pass through,” Ghosh claimed. “It is also the natural habitat of several animals and birds. I don’t know if they did an assessment before carrying out work here.”
Vinod Dahiya, a member of the ETF, denied claims they had cut trees. He added that to promote tree growth, the force prunes branches, which they use as poles for fencing.
“Some of the locals are not happy with the work we do because we have removed their encroachments. The task of growing trees in a rocky terrain is immensely difficult and we work hard to do that,” Dahiya said. “Some locals have cut trees for their own use in the past… There might be a possibility that some bushes came in the way of the JCB machine and had to be removed,” he added.