An ambulance to the aid of trees

An ambulance to the aid of trees

New Delhi is notorious for its polluted air and fast diminishing green cover and badly in need of initiatives to prevent the situation deteriorating further. In such a scenario, a tree ambulance would naturally evoke curiosity, given that a few know of its existence or its utility.

It is amusing to note that though the tree ambulance has been functioning for nearly five years now, not many people, save those who are involved with the initiative, know about it. Also, the initiative is restricted to only the National Capital. There is also a help­line number and an email address, where citizens can call up if a tree in their vicinity has been felled by a storm; is causing obstruction or is generally ailing.

Launched in 2010 by the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), the Tree Ambulance, quite like a regular ambulance with its medical paraphernalia, except for the green cross, was rolled out to attend to ailing trees in the city, preserve and nurture them and help them stand tall.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, JP Sharma, director of Horticulture Department, NDMC, gave some interesting and lesser-known facts about the Tree Ambulance. “In the past five years, there has been a commendable progress in the condition of the trees in Delhi and, areas like Aurangzeb Road and Akbar Road can provide some beautiful illustrations for the same. We feel proud that only Delhi supports something so crucial for the environment,” says Sharma.

Just like an ailing patient requires medical care to be cured, so does a tree in a critical condition, he says. “While we always keep ourselves equipped with a well-maintained first-aid kit, the tree ambulance has its own kit with instruments and medicines. From 5 litre water tanks to a chain saw and from a water pump to a tree pruner, the Tree Ambulance has equipment required for tree maintenance,” the director says.

“We cater to lakhs of trees and we always have to be sure if the ambulance and its equipment are well kept. It happens quite often that the trees fall sick and their quality starts deteriorating. For such situations we keep medicines to restore them,” he adds.

However, Sharma denies the claim that only a few people are aware of the ambulance and that they do contact the NDMC Horticulture Department if a tree in their neighbourhood has fallen or been uprooted in a storm and is causing obstruction. “Recently, we got a call about a fallen tree in Punjabi Bagh and we immediately reached the place to look into the matter,” Sharma adds.

He says: “People can contact us anywhere. They can contact our additional director or any other official. We also have a helpline number on our website, where people can get in touch with us.” One of the very crucial contributions of the Tree Ambulance, says Sharma, is the plantation of trees carried out across the city. “Those that add colour to our environment are mostly planted in winter, and others like the neem and peepal trees are regularly planted in the required areas,” he says.

But the main challenge is during the seasonal changes, particularly during the monsoon, when thunderstorms, hailstorms and heavy rains are regular occurrences. Trees falling on the traffic signals and on the roads can cause a major hindrance to the daily routines of the people.

“This is one of our major points of concern. On a priority basis, we focus on clearing the roads. Because of the sudden storm that hit the city recently, some trees fell on the traffic signals. In such situations, we cut branches and straighten it with an iron rod. Thereafter, we fill it with sponge foam and seal it with Plaster of Paris,” explains Sharma.
Night emergencies and accidents are issues that constantly need to be addressed. “We have an emergency night staff for such situations. If for some reason, my team isn’t there on time, I personally visit the affected area and look into it,” he says.

The administration removes the dead tree and auction the wood. “We understand the importance of wood as a natural resource. We sell wood of dead trees at public auctions. The revenue generated thus, helps NDMC for other requirements of the Green Ambulance,” says Sharma.

Ironically, despite all the good services that the Green Ambulance is rendering to the city’s greenery, it is only one of its kinds in the horticulture department’s pool.

Hellen Keller has rightly said, alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. The combined effort all the residents of Delhi along with NDMC, can alone bring about a big change in society and environment.

“The relationship is highly reciprocal,” says Sharma. “The way people react to the greenery around them is exactly the way the climate change and the sun’s heat responds to the same,” he continues. “I see people cutting the branches of neem tree for the purpose of cleaning their teeth. Such activities are a hindra­nce to the entire growth of the trees and I request people to resist from such actions.”

Needless to say, trees are an important natural resource, and contribute greatly to the environment. With temperatures rising with every succeeding day, one must always keep in mind that not everyone can afford an air conditioner.

“A large chunk of population seeks relief under the trees during the warm summer and hence the trees and the greenery must be treated with due respect,” says Sharma.

Reviewing its overall operations and progress over the years, one admits it without hesitation that the Tree Ambulance is an initiative that every city must adopt.

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