Down in Jungleland
The old fish-tail palm had been dead for years, but still stood tall and proud in its corner of the garden, providing love-seats for parakeets and housing for magpie robins. Then the May 31 storm struck, and next morning I found it leaning tiredly against the building wall. If it had chosen to fall the other way, it would have been lying flat in the garden. Whatever, it was dangerous and had to be taken down.
Technically, I knew I could have it brought down and then informed the authorities and shown them the evidence. But, taking abundant caution I first approached the complex association. It was curtly unhelpful and retorted it was my problem and I should take the matter to the Tree Officer in the Forest Department (FD). Armed with a letter and photographs, I landed up at the FD office on the green and verdant Delhi Ridge one hot, sultry afternoon and found four or five people sprawled semi-supine over their desks. Couldn’t blame them — it was warm and sticky and there was nothing to do and lunch had just gotten over — I had spent idle winter afternoons in office munching peanuts, so…
Anyway, I was informed that the Tree Officer was out, but I could leave the letter in the next room and make sure that I contacted him. In the next room, I met a man whose Hindi I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand mine. He jabbed the letter several times until the penny dropped: he wanted a photocopy. I got that done and he stamped my copy, and elated, I was on my way.
But something was ticking at the back of my mind. I rang the Tree Officer and apprised him of the situation. “Ah,” he said, “that’s all very well , but did you fill in the form?”
Idiot! Imbecile! Moron! To think I could visit and leave a government office without filling up a form! Back I went, and asked why I wasn’t told this earlier; there wasn’t any reply but they gave me the form and an affidavit. The form required every detail regarding the tree — its exact location, everything short of its husband/father’s name — most of which I didn’t know. But it was touching to think that the government was so concerned about each and every tree and required every last iota of information about it. I filled in the form and affidavit, got it notarised and handed the papers in and was told that the tree would be examined and a decision taken.
Three weeks later, two officers arrived: the gentleman in charge examined the tree carefully, took pictures (he had the file), while his assistant gave it one look and said “sookha hain, mara hain”. But a report would be written. It would take time. (Why he couldn’t say yes/no on the spot beats me — the tree was leaning perilously.)
A month later, the letter arrived, granting permission. But, I have to inform them two days in advance, send the wood to a crematorium, get a receipt, send them pictures of the site post-removal and plant 10 saplings.
So far, nothing about spending the next 14 years in the jungle. There’s a reason for this. So much trouble over one dead tree, yes. But let them find oil or diamonds under a pristine rainforest and it’ll be instant mass murder. And we call that development.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher