The forest department has claimed it planted nine lakh saplings in 2014 and distributed six lakh more to citizens for greening the capital. That makes it 15 lakh saplings, the department submitted in reply to a query on curtailing air pollution at National Green Tribunal. But the numbers don't add up, considering Delhi hasn't seen any substantial rise in forest cover since 2009. The bench has been cautious about accepting the department's claims. "Even if a part of it was done, there can be no doubt that the greenery of Delhi would have a different shape and look," it said on Monday. NGT directed the chief conservator of forests to file a personal affidavit and present details of expenditure incurred and names of species of saplings planted. Prior to 2014, at least 5.5 lakh saplings were reportedly being planted every year. But the department doesn't have any data on how many of them are surviving and at which locations. The Tree Authority, a committee of forest and civic agencies formed in 2007 with a mandate of preserving Delhi's trees, started a process of third-party verification in 2012 to assess the survival rate of saplings. It entrusted Delhi Parks and Gardens Society with the task of coming up with the data.
But DPGS officials claim they haven't received any information from agencies that conduct plantation drives. "How can survival rate be assessed without knowing where they have been planted?" S.D. Singh, CEO, DPGS, said.
A DPGS official said survival rate of plantations in Delhi is poor owing to harsh weather conditions. "After one year the survival rate is usually 70 per cent but after three it's less than 50. Survival rate of avenue plants is the lowest because of disturbance as well as exposure to harsh conditions," he said.
Ravi Agarwal, former Tree Authority member, said, "Plantations are outsourced to various agencies but nobody monitors survival. The saplings need to be cared for. They should be grown in a nursery and moved to other areas only once they reach a certain height."
The department, however, seems to have washed its hands of the matter. "We have a supervisory role. That's to hand out saplings to 18-19 urban agencies like the corporation, DDA, NDMC, DMRC and others. We obviously don't know whether all survive," said a senior forest official. Another official claimed that "the casualty is highest in Asola Bhatti Sanctuary. That area has rocky or sandy soil, and often no soil and no water. Often, over 30 per cent of the saplings need to be replaced."
Singh said plantations may be more successful in coming years when Yamuna banks are made available. NGT has already directed that agriculture on Yamuna bank be stopped as the polluted water is affecting the crops.