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Not so green

Patriot revisits the site inside Garhi Mandu forest, from where Arvind Kejriwal flagged off his mass replantation drive on September 7, and finds out the current state of 32,000 trees

On September 7, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal planted a tree, as a part of his mega replantation programme in an area inside the Garhi Mandu reserve forest in north-east Delhi. After 27 days, the same plant is now leafless and on the verge of dying.

To counter the growing menace of air pollution, and to compensate the massive felling of 16,000 trees in South Delhi, the Delhi government flagged off a massive replantation programme, where it was announced that five lakh trees will be planted across 600 locations in the city on September 8, on the occasion of Van Mahotsav.

The focal point of this replantation programme was a land inside the Garhi Mandu reserve forest near Usmanpur village in the north-eastern part of the city. Here, the chief minister, along with other important ministers and top Aam Admi Party (AAP) officials had come to flag off the programme. They were accompanied by thousands of children from different schools across the city. A total of approximately 32,000 trees were planted in the area. The event received much hype and praise from every nook and corner of the city.

But, 27 days later, on a revisit to the site of the event, Patriot discovered that the area lies in a sorry state, with more than half of the 32,000 plants either dead or on the verge of dying.

“To maintain a plantation of area of this size, you need proper maintenance and lots of man power,” says Swami Prem Parivartan, popularly known as Peepul Baba, environmentalist and founder of the Give Me Trees foundation.

“The basic policy of any tree maintaining site is that for every 1,500 trees there needs to be one man looking after them,” he says. So, according to this calculation for the 32,000 trees, there should be at least 21 people manning the plants. However, it was found that only one man is taking care of the entire stretch of land and all the trees.

“Every day I take care of all these plants, and give them water regularly. But I am not the only one, there are many people like me who do take care of the plants,” says Babu, the lone caretaker of the plants. However, on speaking to some locals, who live nearby the area, it was found out that they have never seen more than one person manning the area.

“The basic way to inspect the condition of the plants is to scratch the bark with your nails. If you see that the inside of the stem is green, you will know that the plants are alive and well, but if it is brown, then the plant can be assumed dead or on the verge of dying,” says Swami Prem. While doing this test on some plants, it was found that all of them were brown.

“This happens mostly if the plants are not watered properly,” says Swami Prem. According to him, a freshly sown tree, that has been relocated from a nursery to a new plantation spot, needs 15-25 litres of water per day, for the first five days, in the dry weather conditions of Delhi. Then, it has to be given five litres of water for at least three days a week. “This is the basic requirement for any tree to survive,” he says. So, the 32,000 plants need 1,60,000 liters of water i.e. approximately 32 tankers of water thrice a week. “It is not humanly possible for a single person to water all the trees,” says Swami Prem. The caretaker, Babu, claims that he waters the plants every day.

However, it was found that most of these plants have either dried up or died, which only happens if they not watered properly for many days at a stretch. “Let alone water tankers, I have never even the trees being watered from a hosepipe,” says Manish, an auto rickshaw driver who stays near the plantation site. “They could easily take water from the Yamuna, located just nearby, to water the plants, but I have never seen anybody do that,” he says, adding that the only bit of water they have received was due to the rain.

“The soil of Delhi is very dry and rocky as it is near the Aravalli range. Even in the last number of years, there has been very scarce rainfall, thus making the soil drier. In addition to this, the water of the Yamuna has also receded a lot, thus the soil does not get the same amount of water like Kolkata, which is near Ganga,” says Swami Prem. “Also, the Delhi soil lacks elements like sodium, potassium, nitrogen and calcium, which are required for a tree to reach its full potential,” he adds.

So, for a tree to grow healthily in the capital, the soil beneath each tree needs atleast five kg of manure every three months. “Every alternate day, they need to put little amount of manure, both chemical and biological, so that the plants survive. Lack of it will cause the soil to dry up and the plants will be finished,” says Swami Prem.

The soil beneath the plants were extremely dry and cracked up, hence proving the fact that it has not received enough nutrition — neither water, nor manure, and hence the plants too are dying a slow death.

“In such a big plantation site that is spread across a vast area, the first thing that one should do is create a proper boundary, with proper fencing, so that animals and cattle do not enter the field and eat away the plants,” says Swami Ram. However, there was no such boundary around the plantation sites. There were short bamboo poles, that can be said to be a sort of fencing, but there was not proper protection, and any animal could easily enter the field and eat away the plants. In fact, many of the plants were actually leafless, which is a clear indication that the leaves were eaten away by an animal.

“Another basic thing that one needs to do for trees, which have been relocated from the nursery to a new plantation ground, is that they need proper support to stand upright. This can be done by putting long and thin bamboo sticks across the stem or with the help of a tightly knotted strings”, says Swami Prem. “Since the stems and roots of the trees are still young and cannot stay upright on its own. If the tree is not in shape, then it has greater chances of dying”, he adds.

Almost all of the trees in the site have little to no support. The bamboo sticks that were supposed to support the tree, were all broken and lying on the ground. Even the strings, that had been tied to the plants to keep them in shape, were torn. As a result, most of the plants were not standing upright, and were tilted to one side.

To commemorate the event, a stage was constructed at the site, for the CM and other dignitaries to deliver speeches. After 24 days , the stage has been removed, but the rubble created to construct the stage still remains lying on the ground amidst all the plants. This stretch, strewn with numerous pebbles and stones, may be harmful for the plants. “What happened was they dug the soil for the stage, but didn’t bother to cover it with another patch of fresh soil. Rather, they used stones and pebbles”, says Manish. “This could have made the already dry soil weaker,” says Swami Prem.

Just three kilometers away from the spot, the construction of the Wazirabad flyover is still under progress. The waste from this construction site is also dumped into the forest, and also the replantation site. “This waste will corrode the soil, and it will be even more difficult for the plants to survive,” says Swami Prem.

“Nowadays, the government is more concentrated on quantity over quality. Plantation of five lakh trees caught everyone’s attention”, says Swami Ram. “Just planting trees won’t do. You need to maintain them , and proper maintenance costs a lot of money and man power, which the government is obviously not willing to invest in,” he adds.

“We even urged the government to hand over the maintenance of these trees to NGO’s which oversee welfare of plants. But they didn’t pay heed to anyone,” he says.

“To maintain a tree is like taking care of your own child. If not taken care of your child’s nutrition, he will die. Similarly, the government needs to realise that negligence of trees leads to their death, and thus harms the environment in more ways than one”, concludes Swami Prem.