Barren Roads, Missing Blooms
Spring was over in a flash this year. February was uncomfortably cold, but March announced summer. Post Holi, Delhi is normally awash with orange Gulmohars, flaming coral Semuls and red and purple Jacranda trees, as if nature continues the festival of colour into the hot summer months. No longer so, as many tree lined avenues and groves have been axed for new passages, broader roads and metro lines by an unimaginative administration. As the number of vehicles cross the 30 million mark, with more vehicles here than all other Indian metros combined, and cars have become bigger and swankier, the city planners only seem to draw their imagination of urban spaces from Singapore or London. “They cannot be wrong,” a senior Delhi official remarked with child like glee, on getting a pat from the visiting mayor of London!
Over 2 lakh trees will be axed by the time the city hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Half of them are already gone. Amongst them are some which were over 50 to 70 years old. For a city which barely has any playgrounds and where one sees a decreasing number of children playing any sport, this new enthusiasm for a sports event has to be about something else – like new projects, new investments, real estate. Trees do not figure anywhere on the agenda, and even heritage walls carry more leverage. The metro was forced underground near the Qutab Minar, but the forested Ridge was its victim instead. Aside from the few spirited citizens who try and create a ruckus each time any tree is cut, no one else seems to care.
Even as neighborhood trees are being lost, the PR machinery of the State has swung into action. The last survey claims Delhi has over 45 lakh trees in the city, so why should we complain? Only, sparrows and parrots have disappeared from neighborhoods, tarred roads steam in the sun, and everything sounds a bit louder with the green buffer gone. It is also not said that most of these trees are in the forested and protected Ridge area, while new colonies and developments remain tree-less. Infact on may roads some “avant guard” artistic planners have constructed stone trees, painted in brown and green! Alongside, all new compensatory plantation is carried out on the fringes of the city, far away from where they are cut, and even for that land is now unavailable. No plan, either for road widening, or for new construction has a provision for planting trees, or re-creating a tree line. Tree lined streets in colonial Delhi made the street walkable in the 45deg C summer and a place where water sellers parked their carts, or the Jamun pickers sold their fruity wares. This was not accidental but planned and executed with precision. Trees and the buildings had an equally important place, unlike the barren crossings and concrete horizons which we now encounter.
It must be said that the educated, affluent citizens are no better in this respect. Colony trees are brutally truncated in the guise of pruning. Resident Associations now hire contractors for a post-monsoon ‘trimming’, who gain by selling the wood!
April will be followed by May. Will we notice the Laburnums and Jauruls only by the missing blooms? Maybe Pradip Kishen’s fascinating book is already a ‘requiem’ to Delhi’s trees.