In an effort to restore the green cover of the national capital, scientists are meticulously working on developing biodiversity parks which will make a significant difference to Delhi’s environment and clean its toxic air.
Under the DDA’s Delhi Biodiversity Foundation, a team of scientists is working to develop four such sites, besides Yamuna and Aravalli biodiversity parks (BDP), so that they can act as Delhi's green lung. The four are – Tilpat Valley, Neelahauz, Kamla Nehru Ridge, and phase 2 of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park. The Yamuna and Aravalli BDPs are already developed and currently being maintained.
“There is a reserved forest area of 7,784 hectares in Delhi, but still the pollution is so high. There are no animals in the forests. Rapid urbanisation did not happen in a planned way and there was a fragmentation of forest area. The vehicles on Delhi’s roads are polluting the air and we need to enrich our biodiversity to purify it. We want to restore the Aravalli in its original form,” says Professor C R Babu, head of Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems under Delhi University, which is carrying out the project for Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
The foremost task of the scientists is to transform the sites into rich wetlands which will act as recharge zone and aquifer for groundwater and also purify sewer water before it mixes with the river.
“There were more than 400 wetlands in Delhi earlier. Now, only two or three are left. We are developing more wetlands now to store floodwater and use it later. It also recharges the groundwater,” he said.
Yamuna Biodiversity Park in north Delhi was a pilot project in that direction. The work started in 2005 on a barren land which had sodic soil and development of any kind of vegetation was difficult. Today, the area of 157 acres acts as a perfect example of successful restoration of the ecosystem by Professor Babu and his team.
“This was a wasteland and an inactive floodplain of Yamuna River when we started working on it. The soil was not suitable for plantation. We developed two wetlands and grassland and forest communities on the rest of the land. The plantation was done in such a way that the salt content reduced. We planted the native species of Yamuna such as adina community, sal associate dominated, teek associate, Hardwickia, etc. Today the wetlands attract thousands of migratory birds from Siberia, Central Asia and Europe,” said Dr Mohammed Faisal, who manages the park.
Today, it has 75 species of butterflies, 200 species of birds, 10 species of snakes, 900 species of plants, and big mammals like porcupine, civets, and wild boars. The phase two of the park is 300 acres of active floodplain and is in the development stage.
Work is currently on in Northern Ridge or the Kamla Nehru Ridge and at Neela Hauz near Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
While development of Neela Hauz BDP will be completed in another three-four months, scientists at Kamla Nehru Ridge have started pruning the canopies of Prosopis juliflora or ‘Vilayti Kikar’, a Mexican-native species which has encroached upon more than 90 per cent of the ridge area and eliminated the native species.
“Vilayati Kikar was planted by the Britishers to beautify the wastelands. It contains toxic chemicals and is a massive biological invasion by any alien species. It finished all native species including kejari, tree of life. It is not a good fodder, neither a good wood. It also depletes the groundwater,” Professor Babu said.
“We had to eradicate it and bring out the native vegetation in a phased manner through canopy opening technique. This plant prevents sunlight so we removed small branches so that sunlight can reach the native saplings planted by us,” he said.
The plan is to develop it into a wild forest and not like well-manicured parks. “In other countries, there is a concept of city forests. But in India we have parks. There are so many parks in Delhi for recreation but no where will you find the kind of species and vegetation like we have in forests,” said Dr A K Singh, who was earlier working to maintain the Yamuna BDP site and is started developing the Kamla Nehru Ridge two months ago.
Similarly, Tilpat Valley, bordering the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary, is also encroached by ‘Vilayti Kikar’. The work here will begin on August 30, by plantation of about one lakh saplings.
“Tilpat Valley is also one of the deepest parts of Delhi. It can act as a water recharge zone for south Delhi,” Professor Babu said.