Delhi’s High Court has put a temporary stop to felling of trees in India's capital

While the obvious thing to do when a city is quite literally gasping for clean air is to plant more trees, India’s capital city is set to lose around 16,500 trees to make room for government accommodations and a commercial project. The project that will be developed by government-run National Building Construction Corporation India Limited (NBCC) requires chopping off thousands of trees in seven residential colonies in South Delhi - Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagraj Nagar, Mohammadpur, Kasturba Nagar and Sriniwaspuri.

On hearing about this plan, annoyed citizens, on Sunday, came out in droves brandishing placards to urge authorities to stop this project.

And in what is perhaps being seen as a small victory, the Delhi High Court today put the felling on hold till the next hearing on 04 July. The court was hearing a petition filed by an orthopaedic surgeon K Mishra to stop the central government project.

A separate petition has been filed by an NGO, with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking directions for quashing the environmental clearances for these projects. That case will be heard on 02 July.

NBCC claims they will be planting 10 times the number of trees they chop down - supposedly in a location 30 km from where they will be felled. But activists believe the void created by chopping off trees at one location cannot be filled by planting trees at a whole other location. Trees basically act as a shield from dust storms, something Delhi has been experiencing quite often of late. The fact that trees help reduce pollution is something we're taught since school anyway.

There is, however, some amount of ambiguity about whether the NBCC has permissions to cut the trees from the forest department, and if so, for how many trees.

The environmental impact assessment report for the projects in South Delhi cited that 11,000 trees were to be felled in Sarojini Nagar. However, the Indian Express reported that the proposal to fell these trees has repeatedly been rejected by the Delhi Forest Department.

After the first proposal was rejected, the NBCC revised the number to 606 trees and this too was rejected. For now, the NBCC has permission to cut 4,695 trees in total while 1,213 more will be translocated inside the project area. The earlier proposals were rejected on the grounds of ‘inadequate data for compensatory plantation.’ Relentless, NBCC is now working on a yet another revised proposal.
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