After it emerged that at least 77,000 trees had been cut down or transplanted in Delhi over the past three years, environmental experts began to question the findings of the report on the state of India’s forests ( ISFR) that showed an increase in forest cover in the nation’s capital.

According to government data recently submitted to the High Court, the Delhi Forest Department has authorized the cutting or transplanting of at least 77,000 trees, or three trees per hour, for development work in the city over the past three last years.

While an ISFR report released by the Union Environment Ministry on January 13, 2022, said that Delhi’s green coverage has increased from 21.88% to 23.06% of its geographical area over the last two years.

Speaking of the “contradictory” statistics, environmental activist Bhavreen Kandhari told PTI that the purported green gains came largely from the Forest Survey of India’s “problematic and contradictory redefinition of the forest”.

“The new definition of forest would lead to an increase in open areas considered forest. However, what types of land cover this might include on the ground, or what was the validity of their inclusion as forest, remained extremely difficult even for experienced field researchers to assess,” she said.

She further stated that from all available evidence, it would appear that ISFR’s count of tea gardens, coconut plantations, built-up areas, desert scrub or certain golf courses such as forest is no coincidence. “It seems like a rather thoughtful and deliberate stance,” she added.

ISFR said Delhi’s tree cover increased from 129 sq km in 2019 to 147 sq km in 2021. The overall green cover (forest cover and tree cover) increased from 324.44 sq km to 342 sq km, according to the report.

On the other hand, data submitted in response to orders on a contempt plea filed by an RTI activist against tree concretization in the Vikas Marg area of ​​East Delhi, showed that the forest department of Delhi had granted permission to cut or transplant at least 77,000 trees. and that a large number of recorded offenses for illegally cutting, damaging, pruning and concreting of trees over the past three years are pending and offenders have not submitted fines in most cases.

Experts have warned and alerted governments to the “total failure” of tree transplanting as it is being done, said ecologist Ravina Kohli.

She said that development at the expense of the quality of our environment is a “lose-lose” and “boomerang” effort on governments.

“Delhi has been decimated over the years by ill-considered decisions by all governments to the detriment of public health. The need for proper environmental impact assessment has been ignored. The most polluted capital in the world needs the strictest conservation of greens, trees and body water,” Kohli said.

She said much of the published data on air quality, tree planting, the effects of optical emission control measures are “highly questionable” and can best be called political “greenwashing”.

“The number of trees can be statistically different from the definition of tree canopy/green canopy. It’s like comparing apples to oranges,” she said.

Vijay Dhasmana, an ecologist who has been actively involved in ecological restoration projects, told PTI that the forest cover could be tree or spice plantation, farmland, coconut plantation and it so there was “criticism of the FSI when they showed that forest cover had increased.”

“Although some of that is true because the definition of tree cover has changed. However, it’s not necessarily tree cover, it’s just tree cover. So technically the area hasn’t increased but forest cover has increased, which is essentially a greenwash,” he said.

The Delhi government must create green spaces in the city and encourage biodiversity by planting local trees and letting wild flowers grow, said Avinash Chanchal of Greenpeace India.

He said authorities must expand existing green spaces and introduce new ones in all neighborhoods following the principles of sustainable urban planning.