Delhi’s ‘Chipko movement’ to save 14,000 trees

Amid the ongoing political blame game between the Aam Aadmi Party and the Union government over permission to cut at least 14,000 trees in south Delhi area, more than 1,500 people participated in Delhi’s own version of ‘Chipko’ movement at Sarojini Nagar on Sunday afternoon to save the trees, which have been proposed to be cut down to give way to redevelopment of Central government quarters.

Even though the environment impact assessment report for the projects had initially stated that 16,500 trees were proposed to be cut, a statement issued by the Union urban and housing affairs ministry on Thursday claimed that only 14,031 trees are to be cut.

“We would not allow the trees to be felled. Just like the Chipko movement, we would hug the trees if anyone comes to cut them,” said Verhaen Khanna, an environment activist and one of the organisers.

The participants hugged the trees that are to be felled, tied green ribbons around the trees symbolising rakhis and shouted slogans. They carried placards with messages urging people and the government to save trees. Free saplings were also distributed.

“From Monday, at least 10 volunteers will sit and spend the day at the same place at Sarojini Nagar where Sunday’s campaign was organised. This relay campaign will continue till the government revokes its decision,” said Anil Sood, an advocate who filed a petition before the National Green Tribunal to stop felling of trees.

The AAP lent its support to the activists. The state environment and forest minister Imran Hussain and AAP spokesman Saurabh Bharadwaj participated in the campaign even though organisers said that the protest was apolitical.

It is a Union government’s project and it was their decision to cut down the trees. The environment clearance for the project was given by the Union environment and forest ministry in November 2017. The final approval was given by Delhi’s L-G Anil Baijal. Imran Hussain had earlier raised objections as he had asked the forest department to check whether the number of trees to be felled could be reduced and some could be translocated,” Bharadwaj said.

Officials from the L-G office said that proposals do not reach the L-G for approval unless it is cleared and recommended by the ministers, in this case the environment minister. On Saturday, Union environment and forest minister Harsh Vardhan said, “For the non-forest areas, whatever local permissions are to be given, are given by the Delhi government. It is directly under the jurisdiction of the Delhi government and not governed by us.”

The Delhi-unit of BJP, on the other hand, blamed the AAP government for playing politics over trees when its own minister gave approval for tree felling.

“It was the Delhi government which gave the mandatory permission for felling and replantation of trees according to the law. The state forest minister knew everything,” said Manoj Tiwari, chief of Delhi BJP.

On Thursday, the Union ministry of urban and housing affairs had stated that compensatory plantation of trees will be done in the ratio of 1:10, thereby resulting in enhanced tree coverage area.

Managing director of NBCC Anoop Kumar Mittal in an interview to an agency, however, claimed that the number of trees slated to be cut is much lesser than what is being reported.

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