New Delhi: A controversial project that requires the cutting of 17,000 trees in Delhi to make way for government officers’ houses and a commercial complex was put on hold by the High Court today. “Has the tree-cutting been approved by the green tribunal,” the court questioned as it put off the project till July 4, the next hearing.
Cutting trees to make way for roads is justified, the court noted. “You want to cut thousands of trees for housing. Can Delhi afford this?” the judge asked the government-run National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), which is overseeing the project.
The petitioner, KK Mishra, has asked the court to stop the central government project to cut thousands of trees for what it calls “redevelopment” of seven colonies in south Delhi.
“More than 20,000 trees will be cut in the main south Delhi area. A CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) report states there is a deficit of nine lakh trees in Delhi. I hope the court will put a stay on the order,” the petitioner told reporters.
The plan has provoked huge protests in Delhi, with residents rubbishing the government’s assurance that an equal number of saplings will be planted to make up for the loss.
Saplings, argue environmentalists, cannot replace fully grown trees for years in Delhi, which is among the most-polluted cities in the world.
Residents at Sarojini Nagar, one of the colonies chosen for the project, protested on Sunday by hugging trees in a redux of the 1970s “Chipko movement” to stop the chopping of trees in Uttarakhand.
Hardeep Singh Puri, the union minister of state for housing and urban development, said today “Till the time I am a minister no tree will be cut and for every tree that is cut we will plant 10 trees. Green cover will go up by three times after re-development of seven colonies in South Delhi. Young activists are too fast to blame.”
Mr Puri had faced criticism on social media when he justified the project and said all trees would be replaced by saplings.
“It is not just about a tree it is the entire ecosystem that thrives on it, the insects the birds the animals, over it chopping down a 50-year-old tree and replacing it with a sapling, how foolish! Afforestation is not the replacement for deforestation,” a Twitter user commented.
An angry Mr Puri hit back at critics saying: “Be careful with your tone. Just because I am a public servant, you cannot take the liberty of being offensive. All this predates me.The decision taken will ensure that at no point of time will there be even one less tree in the area.”
For the South Delhi redevelopment project, over 3,000 trees have already been cut in parts of the city like Nauroji Nagar and Netaji Nagar. The Nauroji Nagar project, which has started, is planned as Delhi’s first World Trade Centre.