‘Trees protect us, we should save them’

Illegal tree felling

Some residents in Lajpat Nagar’s I-Block were getting 12-15 trees pruned by the MCD staff recently. Other residents saw this and got agitated.

Initially they were clueless – as in who to inform or complain to. Then they contacted me through my Facebook page. They sent me photos and the address of the place where this incident took place.

When I reached the spot, I asked the men who were cutting the trees to show the documents or permission letter. But they were not able to produce any. They disappeared after I told them that I am calling the police. The police came, but were not helpful at all. They said if it were done by the MCD, then no permission is required. But from my experience, I know that even if MCD, DDA, PWD they ordered it, permission is required.

Furthermore, they said we are not cutting the trees, we are just trimming the branches. The definition of tree felling includes cutting the roots, branches, burning the trees, pouring chemicals. And here, they were cutting branches as thick as a human’s waist.

Then I showed them the pruning guidelines, which they were not interested in at all. The police did not take my complaint. So, I notified the Forest Department. They sent someone to investigate. They saw all the damage, following which they went to the MCD office.

Initially, the MCD told us that they have the documents. But after a few hours they admitted that they do not have any. Thus, the Forest Department issued a notice to them. According to rules, there is a penalty the offender has to pay for each tree because it is illegal to cut any part of a tree without permission, which can only be given by the Forest Department. The penalty varies from Rs 20,000 to 50,000 per tree, depending upon the extent of damage.

Actually, some of the residents in the area ordered the pruning. People do that during winter to get more sunlight in their homes. But this cannot be an excuse. Here, both the residents and the MCD are at fault.

At a time like this, when pollution in Delhi is worsening day by day, trees help in reducing pollution. But if these are cut down, how can one expect pollution to be in control? The next day the same thing happened in New Rajinder Nagar.

Many years ago, even I had no idea what to do or whom to contact during these emergency situations. But since I have started working towards this cause, I am aware about all the rules, regulations and more. I started the New Delhi Nature Society (NDNS) to protect the environment in Delhi, because it is losing its greenery day by day, owing to the heavy pollution.

For each person, there should be about 8-10 trees. And for each vehicle, 15-20 trees to compensate the pollution it causes. But unfortunately, in our city the number of people and vehicles outnumber the trees. Huge number of trees are being cut down every day. Instead, we should plant more trees and save the existing ones.

We, through our organisation, try and create awareness about nature among the people. We organise nature walks, awareness campaigns, workshops in schools and colleges and many other activities. We connect with the RWAs of different areas to consult with them regarding making the colonies greener, as well as waste management.

In New Friends Colony, we started a colony level composting system. During storms, we also rescue trees. This year we rescued five big trees by supporting them so that they grow upright again. Now, new leaves have started sprouting. Those trees can live for another 20-50 years.

In Pragati Maidan, construction is going on illegally. So, we approached the NGT. The case is still going on. Even in Noida, the city forest is being destroyed because the Noida Authority wants to build an artificial biodiversity park which will have a food court, an amphitheatre and many other things.

These man-made structures are not going to help the environment in any way. The existing animals in the forest are getting disturbed due to these activities. We protested against this as well. In Gurgaon, also, a biodiversity park is in danger because NHAI is planning to build a six-lane highway through it. We are getting people together to raise voice against this, so that we can save the place.

In South Delhi’s redevelopment undertaken by NBCC, many trees were being cut covertly. We held many protests there, then a case was filed in NGT.

A stay order was given. Some companies or organisations do not think about the citizens – all they think about is their own profit. These green areas are protecting us, and are actually reducing the pollution. So, it is our duty to protect them as well.

l Verhaen Khanna, a commercial pilot by profession, is an environment activist. He is the founder of New Delhi Nature Society.

— As told to Shruti Das

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