Representative Image: Photo: Manfred Sommer/Flickr, CC BY 2.0
The proposal to remove possibly hundreds of mature jamun trees from Central Vista has no scientific basis.
Firstly, the idea behind removing these trees is based on the assumption that jamun trees survive for about 100 years. While the species’ average lifespan may be 100 years, it is completely unscientific to assume that every individual tree will die in 100 years. Trees can go on living for many more years than their ‘average’ life span. In fact, different trees survive for different number of years. Averages are estimates, and do not tell you anything about an individual, and must be treated as such. This is akin to saying that since the life expectancy in India is 69 years, all people in the country will die at the age of 69!
But more importantly, this plan does not make any sense because it will lead to the removal of many mature trees several years before they actually die. This is not some kind of prophylactic treatment, where a disease or tragedy will be prevented by removing trees. In fact, this will create a greater ecological crisis in a city already suffering from high levels of air pollution and ground water depletion, amongst other environmental disasters.
The removal of such a large number of trees will completely destroy the ecology of the Central Vista and will have repercussions for the entire city. Many ecosystem services provided by these trees – for free of cost – will be negatively impacted, such as temperature regulation, rain water percolation, air and noise pollution reduction, dust removal etc, not to mention the loss of habitat for urban wildlife including birds and squirrels.
The jamun trees of Central Vista are an entire ecosystem on their own, both culturally and ecologically. They are an integral part of the landscape – who doesn’t remember strolling under these trees on a lazy winter afternoon spent picnicking in these vast lawns? The rights to the fruits were auctioned off, and many of us have fond memories of gorging on these fruits bought from the jamun sellers right there, in Lutyen’s Delhi, in the hot, Delhi summers. Their large canopies provide nesting and roosting space for birds, squirrels, bats and monkeys.
The fruits are relished not only by people, but also form an important part of the diet of many animals. In forests, many frugivorous birds have been observed feeding on jamun including several species of bulbuls, parakeets, barbets, and mynahs, and the delightful Indian white-eye.
Similarly, in cities, there are records of parakeets, koels, barbets, mynahs and squirrels feeding on the astringent fruit. There is no reason to believe that the jamuns of Central Vista support any smaller number of birds and other urban animals. To top it off, the flowers of the tree attract many pollinators including bees, which then go on to pollinate many of our crops and garden plants, including flowers, fruits and vegetables.
It is important to note that fully grown trees, removed en-masse, cannot be replaced by saplings of any size whatsoever. Ecosystems cannot be transplanted, rather they take several decades to grow and mature. Once destroyed, they never regain their former functioning. In this entire plan, it is also unclear as to how the age of the trees will be determined by the design firm.
There are only two foolproof ways to determine a tree’s age – either one knows the exact date when the tree in question was planted, or one can take a sample of the core and count the number of annual rings of growth. While one would need immaculate historical planting records for the former, the latter method is resource intensive, expensive and causes injury to the tree. Since there are many variables that impact tree growth over several decades, tree age cannot be ascertained by measuring its girth or canopy spread, it can only be guesstimated at best.
This idea behind removing trees is even more shocking in light of the recent RTI reply from the Delhi Forest Department that admits that there hasn’t been any tree census in Delhi in the last 10 years, and in the NDMC areas – under which the Central Vista project falls – in the last two decades. Which means, we have no official data on the exact abundance, diversity and condition of trees in this large area slated for redevelopment and massive tree felling. It is essential that the NDMC conduct an official tree census of this entire area and share this information in the public domain immediately.
In a highly dense and polluted city like Delhi, we must preserve every bit of greenery we have, especially our large, heritage trees. Jambudvipa – the land of the jamun – one of the ancient names for India tells us how deeply the jamun is engraved in our culture, our heritage and our psyche.
The magnificent jamun trees of the Central Vista are worthy of our protection. Diseased and damaged trees should be treated, and only trees that are dying and cannot be saved should be replaced. There is absolutely no rationale for cutting trees in large numbers. This ill-thought out plan is nothing short of mass-murder.
Vallari Sheel is a PhD candidate at the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, US. She is currently studying the ecological and socio-cultural interactions of urban trees in Delhi.