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Going, going gone: 3,000 trees

Thousands of trees have been felled at Noida’s Sector 91 forest to convert it into a biodiversity park, a move which has been protested by some groups and supported by others

As one walks into the forest in Noida’s Sector 91, numerous tree stumps and excavators greet them. Around three months back, Noida Authority started chopping down trees in the forest to develop a biodiversity park. However, this move has sparked protest among the local residents and several environmentalists of the city.

Spread across 75 acres, the forest is located along the Noida Expressway with residential towers and high-rises in the vicinity and is home to diverse flora and fauna. As per the 2021 Noida Master Plan the area was notified as ‘city forest’ but the land use has been modified in the draft of 2031 Master Plan to ‘park and playground’.

    
According to the Noida Authority officials, the plan to convert the area into a biodiversity park was approved in 2016 with a budget of Rs 50 crore. As per the plan, 5,000 native trees and 19,000 ornamental plants are to be planted along with building other facilities like amphitheatre, food court, picnic gardens, water bodies, parking space, golf-carts, cycle tracks and jogging paths.

While the forest department had given permit to fell 3,000 eucalyptus trees, out of which more than 2800 have already been cleared , some of the residents and environmental groups claim that some other species have also been cut. According to the officials, the eucalyptus plantation existing at the site was done 31 years back and was due to be cut 15 years ago. Many of the trees have fallen off on their own, leaving large barren patches. They also added that eucalyptus is harmful for the water table as it absorbs groundwater.

Concerned citizens and environmentalist are however raising questions. “Noida already has low groundwater table and it is mainly due to concretisation and construction of illegal borewells. Why is everyone suddenly bothered about the eucalyptus trees now? Even if they remove the trees and replace it with native trees, it will at least take over a decade to grow to the size of a full-grown forest,” says Vikrant Tongad, founder of the NGO, Social Action of Forest and Environment (SAFE).

Nature enthusiasts, residents and groups of activists conducted a demonstration at the site on August 25. Several children, senior citizen and others hugged the trees and tied rakhis to stage a protest against cutting down of trees. They came together with placards to convey their dissatisfaction with the move. A natural habitat for various species of wildlife like nilgai, peacock, snakes and over 70 species of birds as per the locals, they are concerned that this will displace the wildlife.


“A park with constructions does not support wildlife. It will displace their habitat. Cemented tracks have already been built. There are already so many parks nearby which nobody visits. We have enough of them in Noida. What sense does it make to create a biodiversity park in an existing forest? We are running out of green spaces. If they had to cut down the trees it should have been done in a phased manner instead of doing it all at once,” says Verhaen Khanna, an activist.

Following complaints from the protestors that more trees have been cut than permitted, the authority has stopped the felling of trees. “According to our observation more than 3000 trees have been cut. Not only eucalyptus, they have also cut down two neem trees,” adds Vikrant. The forest officials clarified that the felling of the two neem trees was a mistake by the cutters and appropriate legal action has been taken against those responsible for it.

On Tuesday, the forest department conducted an on-ground census of the trees that have already been cut based on the stubs in the area. “All the trees surveyed are eucalyptus. Meanwhile, the felling of trees has been stalled and no construction is taking place,” Divisional Forest Officer said. He further added that they are not linked with the Noida Authority and their audit is independent.

“Even if there are small human activities, wildlife is disrupted. They cannot feed on ornamental plants. With the layered grass and maintenance, they will not allow nilgai to feed on them. Why should they be driven away from their natural habitat? There are several unused parks. I fail to understand the logic behind disturbing the biodiversity of an area to create a park,” adds Mohit, a resident of the area.


The officials from Noida Authority maintain that less than the permitted number of trees have been cut and rigorous plantation work is being conducted since Wednesday. The authority is planning on planting around 600 trees, about 10 feet tall, within the next few days. “The idea is to plant trees that have grown, so that it can sustain the existing environment of the forest,” says Rajender Singh, deputy director of horticulture, Noida Authority.

According to the plan, 5,000 native trees – like neem, jamun, tamarind, pilkhan, sheesham, kachnar, gulmohar and babool — are to be planted. Around one lakh shrubs that include 19,625 ornamental ones are also a part of the plantation. “Instead of eucalyptus, long life native trees are to be planted now which also have a dense foliage. Several fruit trees will be planted and this will attract birds. The entire plantation process of the park will be completed in the next six months,” Singh added.

On being asked about the constructions, he claimed that no construction has been done yet. Yet when Patriot visited the site, they found a few cement paths already constructed, and stacks of bricks kept at the side. “Only one path will be made for the differently abled. No solid construction will be done other than that. We want to keep it as lush green as possible. There is no conspiracy behind this,” he stated.


However, not all are against this move. Residents of the area expressed mixed reactions. Some members of the resident’s welfare associations are happy with the new development. They claim that the forest was used as a burial ground for dead bodies and often became the hideout for criminals. They welcome the new creation and are looking forward to having a new eco park.

Delhi is one of the worst polluted city in the world as per reports. Seventy percent of the forests have already been cleared. While some are happy with the changes, others are challenging this move. “It will take over a decade for the trees to fully grow. With the current rate of pollution, I am not sure our lungs can wait,” concludes Vikrant.