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Explained: What are the cost, complications of transplanting a tree?

The Central Public Works Department wants to transplant over 1,800 trees as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project. How is a tree transplanted, and what factors determine the success of a transplant?

Written by Mallica Joshi , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 2, 2021 1:57:12 pm
Experts say the transplantation of trees is a complex and delicate process whose outcome cannot be predicted. (Express Photo: Deepak Joshi, File)

The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) wants to transplant over 1,800 trees which are inside what used to be the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) complex, as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project.

CPWD is yet to seek permission from the Delhi Forest Department, but it has already made its intent clear by floating a tender to transplant these trees.

Two years ago, the Delhi government had announced, as part of its Budget, that of all the trees that were required to be cut for a project, permission (after due process) would be given only for a maximum of 20% — and the rest would have to be “transplanted”, either on site or elsewhere.

Since then, a tree transplantation policy has been notified (in 2020).

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However, the policy has been criticised heavily by environment experts, who have said that transplantation cannot be undertaken for such a large number of trees, as it would completely change the character of the place where the trees are sought to be transplanted, apart from hamper the growth and lives of these transplanted trees.

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The transplantation of full-grown trees first came into public consciousness in Delhi when, in 2011, the voluntary organisation Green Circle helped remove five mulsari trees that were growing in front of the Bada Gumbad in Lodhi Garden. These trees were relocated inside the garden.

Since then, several businesses offering professional tree transplantation services have come into existence. As part of the tree transplantation policy, a tree transplantation cell has been created in the Delhi government’s Forest Department. The Forest Department has started a process of empanelling companies that have the expertise to carry out the transplantation of trees.

Does it work?

Experts say the transplantation of trees is a complex and delicate process whose outcome cannot be predicted. Speaking to The Indian Express earlier, ecologist Dr C R Babu had underlined that transplantation requires time, patience and expertise.

How is a tree transplanted?

A tree cannot be transplanted by simply uprooting it and placing it in a pit dug elsewhere. The process involves multiple steps and requires significant expertise.

First, the soil around the tree is dug up to isolate the roots. The big branches are lopped off, leaving only small shoots for regeneration. This is done to make transportation of the tree to the new location easier.

The root system is covered with wet gunny bags to protect the roots and to keep the tree hydrated. The tree has to be first sent to a nursery to acclimatise to a new kind of soil, and to regenerate. Once new shoots start sprouting, the tree is lowered into a pit created in its new spot.

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What factors determine the success of a transplant?

Even after all steps are meticulously followed, a lot depends on luck. Dr Babu said the survival rate of a transplanted tree is about 50%. If it survives, the tree may take up to 10 years to grow a full canopy similar to what it originally had.

Not all trees can be transplanted. While peepal, ficus, semal and sheesham are tolerant to transplantation, trees such as dak, palash, arjun, shahtoot and jhilmil are not. Any tree that has a tap root system cannot be transplanted, as the root goes deep into the soil, and it is not possible to isolate it without damage.

A Forest Department official said transplanting any tree with a trunk girth of more than 80-90 cm is not advisable as the tree cannot bear the shock, and will eventually die. That effectively means that big, old trees cannot, in most cases, be removed to another location.

It is important to consider soil type before transplantation. A tree growing on, say, the Delhi Ridge will not easily acclimatise to soil in the Yamuna floodplain, as the two ecosystems are entirely different.

Trees that are sought to be transplanted for the Central Vista project will have to be found a new home with a similar soil type and ecosystem. Delhi’s administrative set-up, with the Delhi government frequently at loggerheads with the central government, could lead to complications over the availability of land.

How expensive is transplantation?

Dr Babu, who was part of a team that had transplanted peepal and ficus trees from Delhi University a few years ago, said the process had cost Rs 1 lakh.

Delhi Forest Department officials had told The Indian Express earlier that the cost of transplanting an average-sized tree might come to around Rs 1 lakh, which included post-transplantation care. For larger trees, the cost could go up to Rs 3 lakh.

Private and voluntary organisations, however, claim that the cost is between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 per tree.

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First published on: 28-05-2021 at 05:11:49 pm
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