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Indians protest against felling of over 15,000 trees in Delhi

Staff Writer |
A major protest movement by citizens is brewing up in the Indian capital over a government proposal to cut over 15,000 trees to pave the way for houses for bureaucrats in the world's most polluted city.

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Though the Indian government has put the number of trees to be felled at 4,000 for the redevlopment of these areas and vowed to plant an equal number of saplings across the city as a compensatory measure, residents are seething with anger.

The protests began Saturday, when over 1,500 residents from these colonies and nearby areas, including children, took to the streets to stop the government from felling the tress.

The protesters recreated scenes from Chipko (sticking with trees) movement in the northern state of Uttarakhand and hugged the trees, taking pledge to save them. They rubbished the government's plan to plant equal number of saplings, arguing it was a no-measure to save Delhi grappling with pollution.

"Delhi is choking. Every year we bear the smog and forget that the air is massively polluted on a regular basis. Our children and elderly are suffering from asthma and lung ailments. Isn't that enough to protect the tress?," Shradha Kohli, a protester, said Monday.

Environmentalists from across the country have also lent support to the cause pointing that deforestation will be lethal for Delhi, which is already bearing the brunt of uneven development.

Over 3,000 trees have already been reportedly felled for the mega housing-cum-office complex project, which is being touted as Delhi's first World Trade Center.

"More trees that will be chopped include the ones which are more than 50 years old. New saplings will take even longer to grow into full-blown trees given the current air of the city and lack of proper monsoon rainfall," said environmental activist Prateek Jha.

The protesters, who are campaigning under the name Delhi Trees SOS, have warned of taking the matter into their own hands if the government did not call off the plan. The residents have decided to form groups comprising locals and also of supporters from other states who will guard the trees round the clock to prevent them from being uprooted.

"We will not let this happen and will protect our trees even if we have to guard them 24X7," said N. Sehgal, another resident.

For the time being, the residents have got some reprieve from the Delhi High Court that has stopped cutting of trees till July 2, the next date of hearing of the case that has been filed by local people against the Indian government.

Though there is not yet a response from the Prime Minister's Office, the blame-game between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government and India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has started.

The BJP has blamed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for giving nod to the felling of the trees in non-forest areas. However, the Delhi government has pointed out that the project was under the Union Urban Development Ministry which had taken permission to chop the trees last year from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The BJP, on its part, came out in defence of its government and said the data on number of trees to be chopped was far less. It also said that once redeveloped, the green cover in the colonies will increase threefold.

However, this tug-of-war between the Delhi and central governments reflects the failure of urban development and victory of capitalist ideologies which ignore the rights of citizens to lead a healthy and fuller life.

At the time when Delhi needs sustainable and coordinated efforts to prevent further damage to its air and improve its quality for the future generations, many believe that moves like these can be environmentally suicidal.

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