On Monday, the Delhi High Court asked forest authorities whether “planting of seeds could be done by throwing dart shots containing them from helicopters into forest areas”. Justice G S Sistani and Justice A J Bhambhani were hearing public interest litigation it had initiated in 2015 on the issue of poor air quality in Delhi; a PIL was also filed last year by law students Mihir Garg and Rashi Jain.
Aerial seeding is a well-established concept, but this is generally achieved not with darts but by spraying seeds through an aircraft or a drone. Even a variation of dart seeding has been used in the past in Delhi, but this again was done from the ground itself.
Aerial seeding can be used not only to plant various crops but also to spread grasses to large areas of the land after wildfires, a common problem in countries like the United States. Aerial seeding is adopted because it is quicker and more effective than planting manually. It also allows access to areas where the terrain is rocky or at high elevation. It has been used with varying degrees of success around the world.
Dart seeding is used with the same broad objective as aerial seeding: a plantation in inaccessible areas. The process involves throwing darts containing seeds onto open ground.
A variation of dart seeding was used in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the late 1990s, but not with a helicopter, Delhi Forest Department sources said. The Forest Department used a long iron rod to access ground that could not be reached due to thick cover of shrubs. Seeds were put into the rod, which had a small opening at the other end. When the rod was inserted into the removed and then removed, the soil would cover the seed, unlike in aerial plantation when seeds are thrown into open ground. In aerial seeding, many seeds fail to germinate. If dart plantation is done from a low-flying helicopter, seeds have a relatively better chance of survival as they reach deeper into the ground.
Plantation with both aerial and dart plantations is carried out close to the onset of monsoon as watering the seeds is often challenging in inaccessible areas.
The current case
The High Court has been issuing orders relating to air pollution from time to time and discussed several ideas with the Chief Conservator of Forests. It raised the possibility of dart seeding as a possible method for increasing the forest cover in Delhi. “Have you thought of throwing darts from helicopters in order to sow seeds in areas which are generally inaccessible?” the Bench asked.
An officer of the Forest Department contended that in Delhi there is no part of the forest, which is inaccessible. He also submitted that there is no need of such technology.
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