Trees in the central vista: Jamun trees travel from Rajpath to Badarpur
The vanity project has been panned as 'Modi Mahal' and 'Hollow Cost Museum' but as new houses for the VP and the PM take shape with a new Parliament building, century-old trees are being relocated
While Delhi is under a lockdown and number of Covid cases and Covid deaths spiral upwards, the central vista project has been declared to be an essential service. Work is on in full swing to complete the Parliament Building by November next year with space for 1,244 MPs, a secretariat with all central ministries and a totally revamped three kilometre stretch of the Rajpath. The Vice President and the Prime Minister’s new houses will be ready by May and December 2022. The exercise to relocate 400 heritage trees have already begun.
While the Government has violated environmental regulations, bypassed mandatory public consultations and pushed through approvals at record speed to complete the estimated Rs 20,000 Crore plus project. It took the UK 10 years to renovate its parliament building but India will take less than three years to complete a far more ambitious project.
While the government’s lopsided priority during the pandemic has shocked many, not much attention has been paid to the 400 trees which are being removed to Badarpur in Haryana, 22 kilometres away. How many of them will survive remains to be seen and horticulturists are not convinced that they can be replaced by fresh saplings.
The government says the trees would be re-planted and for every tree uprooted and removed, 10 more saplings would be planted. While critics scoff at such claims and point out that most such plans and platitudes are forgotten within months. It is not known where the fresh 4000 saplings are going to be planted. Where is the space in the concrete jungle of Delhi, which is ranked among the world’s most polluted cities with poor air quality and an acute water shortage?
Two varieties of the Indian black berries, Jamun or Java plums, grew in the Jamun trees in the central vista; the smaller variety maturing in late June and the larger variety later. This summer, however, there will be no Jamun seller to be found with Rajpath dug up and the trees uprooted. Trees in the central vista, most of them almost 100 years old, have been contributing – for free of cost –to temperature regulation, rain water percolation, air and noise pollution reduction, dust removal etc. besides the loss of habitat for urban wildlife including birds and squirrels.
In a recent RTI reply, Delhi Forest Department conceded that no trees census has been conducted in Delhi for the past 10 years and in the NDMC area for the last two decades. Without such a census, how did the government decide to uproot the trees is a question which has remained unanswered.
Pradip Kishen, author of Trees of Delhi (2006) has gone on record to question the ignorance of the architectural firm of Bimal Patel, which is executing the project, about the trees in the central vista. While the firm had claimed that the central vista had banyan, peepul and Ficus trees, Kishen pointed out that barring a few stray trees, he had not seen banyan or peepul trees in the central vista. There were many more Jamun trees, pine, Bistendu and fig trees, planted deliberately to provide canopies to shelter people and to serve a ceremonial purpose.