We are harassing or raping someone who is a living being but cannot speak or listen,” says Aditya N Prasad, a law student who has been fighting against the concretisation of trees in the City.
His petition against the a pathetic approach of the government agencies towards protection of old trees and concretisation around them has been recently heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the NGT has served notices to 14 authorities directing them to remove all boards, nails and advertisements from the tress falling under their jurisdiction and has directed the authorities to de-concretise the area around the trees.
“Though the notices have been served, the government agencies are not serious. Nothing has been done in my area, Meera Bagh. Similar is the situation in other parts of West Delhi. There is a complete apathy among various authorities towards protecting trees,” says Aditya. “Even though government bodies like PWD, MCD and forest department are aware that tree protection laws exist but it appears, that these laws do not apply to their work area,” he adds.
Aditya filed an RTI (Right to Information) in 2011 in all departments asking why the guidelines issued by the Delhi government regarding protection of the trees have not been implemented. “After the RTI, the departments agreed that they were not aware of the harmful effects of concretisation of trees. Therefore, the Central Information Commission asked them to clean up their act and start a website to create awareness about the issue. But the authorities failed to comply with the orders,” explains Aditya, who has lost all hopes that anything will be done on this issue.
Concrete pavements are not only harmful for trees but are equally bad for groundwater recharge. The rain water is not able to seep through concrete, leading to gradual death of the trees and drying up of underground aquifers. When it rains, the water permeates to the underground aquifers and the excess rain goes away as run-off to the stormwater drains and later to the river. But, owing to concretization a huge amount of recharge zone is also lost.
Meanwhile, if it is the duty of Delhi government’s Department of Forests and Wildlife, PWD and the Urban Development Department to ensure that the trees are protected, Padmawati Diwedi, founder and president of the NGO-Compassionate Living, points at the role of the citizens. “Cementing will be stopped when people realise the importance of soil. Unfortunately, city dwellers equate soil with dirt but not as a medium essential for sustaining life.”
Awareness, she feels is the only way to overcome the problem and to retain the green cover. “Government and corporates should come up with creative means to educate the public on the importance of keeping stretches of open soil that allows groundwater recharge and for maintaining greenery.”
Adding to the problem is the wastage of funds as concretisation is useless. “The engineering department of various agencies must use porous materials that allow ground water recharging. The current practice of cementing and topping with the sand and then cement blocks is a complete waste of public funds,” she adds. Is anyone listening?