Saving Our Trees
Usha Srinivasan

The benevolent tree!! What does it get in return? How do we treat them? 

We at CLEAN-India tried to find out.

Imagine yourself standing at a busy traffic intersection (say ITO at Delhi), 24 hours a day, 365 days a year -cars, buses and trucks spewing smoke and dust on your face; steel girders prisoning your body; stones and concrete poured around your feet to a depth of 30 to 40 cms; advertisements and nails pierced on your body!
What is a tree?
The plough for a farmer,
Firewood in a village kitchen,
Boat for a fisherman,
Home for birds and animals,
Food and shade,
Oxygen supplier, Pollution abator,
Soil preserver, Rain giver,
Natural air conditioner,
The breath of life………..
For Man!

This is what a Delhi tree is subjected to! Can it survive this assault?

Each year we pride ourselves in taking the credit for planting lakhs of saplings. But are we giving them the minimum conditions to grow and live? How many managed to survive?
Thousands of Delhi trees have died in the last decade and of the remaining, thousands are under fatal threat as they are made to battle for their survival. If the remaining trees are to be saved, immediate action is needed.
According to the Greening Delhi Action Plan 2000-2001 report , in the year 1999-2000, nearly 22 lakh saplings of trees and shrubs were planted in Delhi. The target for 2000-2001 is 25,02,406 saplings to be planted by the horticultural wings of different govt. agencies like New Delhi Muncipal Council (NDMC), Muncipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Department of Environment (DoE) and the Forest Department. For the past decade, the numbers have been the same on an average. Even if 5% of these survived, Delhi should be completely covered with tree (green) cover!

Trees under Threat

Detailed field surveys show that most of the Delhi roads have limited surface soil for the trees to grow. This bit of bare earth is also being covered with a thick layer of impermeable concrete and tiling to make pavements. Tiling right upto the tree trunk severely hampers air and water absorption. The roots near the surface get destroyed, the trunk cannot expand properly and this ultimately affects its growth and even survival. This is not all. On a typical summer day, the tiles get heated to high temperatures and scorch the root system. The destruction of root systems weakens the tree’s grip on soil, which leads to their uprooting even during mild storms. During tiling, the most fertile topsoil is removed to be replaced by asphalt mixture. This completely ravages the soil, causing soil pollution, which is far more difficult to rectify than air & water pollution. The cemented pavements are frequently dug open to repair wires, etc generating huge amounts of non-degradable ‘debris’. Enormous resources like bricks, cement, labour are utilised for tiling. Instead they can be put to better uses.

Tiling should only be done on roadsides that have heavy pedestrian movement, otherwise it should be avoided. While tiling, if a tree is growing in the way, a minimum soil / kutcha space of 6 x 6 feet around the trees should be left untiled. Using porous tiles or badarpur are other options.

These are not the only threats. The tree guard required to protect young saplings, needs to be removed once the tree is grown. Otherwise the metal tree guard restricts the growth of the trunk, cutting into the tree and damaging it. The advertisements nailed to the trees aggravate the situation. We are treating trees like sign-posts. Let us remember that they are also living things and need good care.

CLEAN-India Initiatives

CLEAN-India schools have taken up tree planting and greening of school campus. In the last couple of years
these school students have planted saplings and taken good care of them. In the process, they have realised how difficult it is to make them survive. Students have also been taken on tree walks, where they were acquainted with different species of trees, their characteristics, etc. These experiences naturally lead to the project – The status of roadside trees in Delhi.
It is a misconception that trees require great care only when they are young saplings. Studies have shown that even mature trees require care and attention for their survival. According to the findings of the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun the main reason for death of road side trees is the tiling and concretisation upto the trunk of these trees. Many big and beautiful trees of Neem and Imli, younger trees of Alistonia and Karanj on the Bhogal, Nizamuddin and Sundar Nagar stretch of Mathura Road are completely choked either by tiling or by tarring. The neem trees outside Rahim’s tomb are choked to death, needing immediate action.

Roadside Trees - Who cares?

CLEAN-India organised tree surveys near a few schools in Vasant Kunj, R.K.Puram and Saket areas in Delhi. The findings were alarming. Most of the trees were under stress either due to tiling or tarring. In addition to this, many were nailed for advertisements and also strangled by tree guards. The trees seemed to cry out for immediate help.

Action programmes were chalked out. Resident Welfare Associations, government agencies (NDMC, MCD etc.) and school authorities were also made aware of the problem, who readily helped the students in their efforts in detiling, removal of tree guards and  nailed advertisements. When and where the action was not forthcoming, students made repeated phone calls to concerned officials and also wrote letters demanding action. In Vasant Kunj area for example, many pavements were being constructed leaving inadequate 

space for the many trees in the vicinity. After repeated calling, writing letters, etc. the authorities are now leaving kutcha space for the trees in further constructions and detiling where required.

The fourth CLEAN-India meet organised in April, 2001 gave the students an opportunity to present their reports to the expert panel. Some of the issue raised were :

w Non-adherence by various government departments to the government notification - though the government notification lists 23 issues regarding trees and other greens of our cities and towns, the concerned departments are not taking action on them

w Not getting responses from authorities - when the students report to the authorities regarding removal of tree guards/tiles, cutting of trees etc. in specific areas (supported by photographs), they neither get timely response nor required action.

w Information regarding the Tree Helpline - As many agencies (NDMC, MCD, DDA, PWD, CPWD) are involved in the care of trees and roadside pedestrian pathways, the students felt that if there could be one single authority who could be approached for necessary action.

The government officials admitted that trees need more protection and promised to extend help and support to the students’ endeavours.

Each step counts

Each and every CLEAN-India member is a tree ambassador and has the responsibility of not only spreading awareness but also looking for solutions and take suitable actions. What is needed is both advocacy and action.

Here are some of the initiatives that we can take as friends of trees:

1. Respect trees and plants and refrain from plucking leaves/ grass/flowers unnecessarily.

2. Do not burn the dried leaves under the trees, instead allow them to mulch.

3. When vehicles/ drive ways are washed, drain the waste water towards a tree / plants nearby

4. Get your vehicles checked for pollution regularly.

5. Break or loosen the concrete around the tree trunks and substitute with garden soil and manure.

6. While constructing driveways, walls in your own home, remember to keep adequate open space for the trees growing there.

7. Remove the advertisements nailed on trees and fill the holes with soil or Boradoux mixture powder

8. When you see a tree or its branches being cut or digging near the trees, check whether permission has been taken from the concerned authorities.

Prayer of the Tree
On cold nights I am
the heat of your hearth,
I screen you from the sun
With friendly shade
I give people fruits and flowers
As you thirst, my fruits refresh you
I am the beam that holds your house,
The board of your table,
The bed that you lie on
The timber that builds your boat
And from which you get furniture.
I am the hands of your hoe,
And the door of your homestead.
The wood of your cradle and the shell
Of your coffin.

Samuel Alodina, Ghana
Source: PACHAMAMA by UNEP and Peace Child Intl

Painted by Shashank Johri, Montfort School, New Delhi  



I was growing, standing high,
with flowers like stars in sky;
with fruits which were meant for thy,
spreading branches giving a shy,
very safe then was I,
but soon this era said good bye.

On the side of the road,
I am standing low,
all vehicles giving me the polluted blow;
fresh air is less, but smoke is more;
broken branches, no fruits I bore,
see the consequence, of this torture of yours, less rain, but floods & droughts are more, the death god is
standing at your door.

(The soul of the tree speaks since no trees are left)
On the side of the road, I was born,
I heard the bustling
screeches of horns,
but soon I left this earth to mourn,
for CO2 levels have greatly increased and decreasing O2 levels warns;
now I ask you humans,
what did you earn, by killing
me and this earth in turn.

Nitin Purwar
Christ The King College, Jhansi

9. Whenever you find trees being threatened, inform the school authorities/ residents/ RWAs for action, or form your own youth group and take first aid action for trees.

10. There are enough rules and regulations regarding the protection of trees like "The Delhi Tree Preservation Act" and the "Government of India notification No.5-DDR/VIP/2000-DDVI". There are also agencies like the tree officer and the tree helpline who can be approached for assistance.

The situation is not specific to Delhi. The unplanned urbanisation of many of our cities and towns is leading to more and more concretisation and faster depletion of green cover.

In the words of a young environmentalist, Shubam Yogi, unless we want "trees of bricks & flowers of cement"

we need to take urgent and appropriate action and save our greens.

By : Usha Srinivasan
The author is a consultant of
Development Alternatives

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