The Delhi government recently announced a new tree transplantation policy, a first-of-its-kind in the country. The announcement of this policy has led to apprehensions among green activists. I can empathise because activism is often black and white, there is no scope of grey. Cutting down old trees is wrong. Period. In an ideal world, this is how it should be. We should not be cutting down old trees anywhere and especially in smog-laden cities such as Delhi. But another truth that we cannot escape is that Delhi is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is a city where people come to fulfil their dreams, to study, to work.
Delhi needs more housing, schools, and hospitals. What is required is an inclusive planning process, which is currently missing; and, therefore, what needs questioning is not the transplantation policy but the urban planning process in National Capital Regional (NCR). Unless we make the planning process more holistic, we will be fighting to save a few trees and keep losing the bigger environmental battle.
Without going into the details of how the central government is trying to dilute the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, the current EIA framework has been a sham and highly prone to corruption. The biggest flaw is that the project proponent is responsible for carrying out an EIA. In most cases, they look for “agencies” who can help them “fix” the process and obtain the necessary clearances.
We hardly ever see a scientific cost-benefit analysis of any proposed projects, an analysis that considers the various economic, ecological, and social costs of implementing a project. In most cases, the economic advantages are inflated, while ecological costs are not accounted for. Take the recent case of the Char Dham project, which did not consider any of the environmental costs associated with the project, even though it was being implemented in an eco-sensitive zone. The Supreme Court’s recent intervention on the project is clear proof of how the Centre is brazenly ignoring environmental norms.