As per the India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2015, the total forest cover of NCT of Delhi is 299.77 sq. km. (20.22%) as against 297.81 sq. km. (20.08%) reported in SFR-2015. Thus, there is an increase of Green Cover of Delhi from 20.08% to 20.22% which works out to 0.14% of the geographic area (Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate change 2015). In spite of the very high rate of increase in population and related development activities, there is an increase in forest cover in Delhi from 1.48% in 1995 to 19.97% in 2016 (Choubey 2017).
Despite being one of the greenest city in the world, there are increasing constraints due to the rapid pace of increase in population, adverse impacts of climate change, greenhouse gases, high level of pollution with low availability of green spaces in Delhi and this has prompted us to analyze the idea of urban greening and its impacts urban living.
“Urban green spaces are defined as public and private open spaces in urban areas, primarily covered by vegetation, which is directly (e.g. active or passive recreation) or indirectly (e.g. positive influence on the urban environment) available for the users.” (Manlun, 2003) Urban greening helps in climate change mitigation, water management, biodiversity enhancement, local distinctiveness, recreation and leisure, quality of place, health (physical and psychological), and stronger communities. Urban greening further helps in regulating the urban temperature, shade, and cooling through evaporation, the increased greenery leads to higher absorption of carbon-dioxide while also increasing the release of oxygen into the atmosphere which not only helps in reducing surrounding temperature but also reduces the environmental footprint of urban inhabitants. The present essay looks at the city of Delhi and the way to develop an urban greening policy framework for it so that the city can truly live up to its tag of the greenest capital city while at the same time making it an environmentally healthy city.
How Delhi Fares?
Delhi stands as a perfect oxymoron in urban greening while it is one of the greenest city’s (Choubey 2017) it also has the infamous tag of being one of the most polluted cities (Harris 2014) in the world. The master plan of Delhi 2021 says that the unprecedented scale and speed of urbanization in Delhi had led to extensive pressure on the physical environment with a highly negative impact on pollution. All this has led to deteriorating pollution indicators in Delhi rendering it among the most polluted cities in the world.
The pollution has manifested itself in different forms in the air, water, and land of the city. Master Plan of Delhi 2021 has noted river Yamuna, drains, and the lake/ponds as the main sources of water in Delhi which are highly polluted. Traditional water bodies like lakes/ponds (excluding areas of unintentional water logging along railway tracks, highways, canals, etc) have been encroached or have otherwise become defunct. Many parts of Delhi are noting heavy metal-laden groundwater due to undocumented precedence on groundwater (Singh 2019) such as exploitation of groundwater resources leading to exhaustion of water tables and an increase of metallic components. Wetland and floodplain of river Yamuna are being lost in the name of development leading to less urban green spaces available in the city (ibid).
Unsustainable condition of the urban area due to the mass influx on the population has led to lowering of the recharge of aquifers, high demand from the agriculture, industrial and domestic sectors put excessive stress on groundwater resources specifically in time of drought/deficient rainfall, and unplanned withdrawal from the sub-soil aquifers, have been the major reason for the decline in groundwater levels (Delhi Development Authority 2017).
The high rate of urbanization with increasing density has lowered the urban green spaces in the cities. Due to climate change, the city is facing hazardous situations like heatwaves, change in differences in temperature of the seasons, etc. On the other hand, anthropogenic activities like pollution and illegal cutting or feeling of trees (from 2011-2018, Delhi Forest Department have granted permission to cut at least 44,833 trees) has made the city a gas chamber which hinders the social growth and affects the quality of health of the population in the city. Hence, it impacts negatively on biodiversity which directly or indirectly affects urban green spaces and its inhabitants. For instance, if urban greening is not adopted then the situation will get worse in the coming future as it happened in London, 2006 in which due to heatwave 600 people died (ansglobal 2018). Urban greening comes as a rescue to mitigate climate change and pollution impacts on the city.
Steps taken by the Delhi Government
Delhi had about 300sqkm of green area in 2015, as per the Indian state forest report. Besides, Department of Environment and Forests of NCT Delhi there are various agencies working to make capital greener under the “Green Capital” Mission like Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), East Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, North Delhi Municipal Corporation, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Education Department, Transport Department, Flood Control Department, Development Department, and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (Imam and Banerjee 2016). The Parks and Garden society was established to coordinate the greening activities in the city (ibid) and creating green spaces which can be used by urban inhabitants for the recreational activities. The government has also established biodiversity parks to conserve the biodiversity of the particular area and maintain the genetic stock of flora and fauna available therein. DDA with the assistance of technical experts has developed seven biodiversity parks in Delhi namely Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Neela Hauz Biodiversity Park, Kamla Nehru Biodiversity park, Tilpath Valley Biodiversity Park, Tughlakabad Biodiversity Park, South Biodiversity Park, and Aravali Biodiversity Parks and which is an important component of Green Delhi (Choubey 2017).
Green leap Delhi and Tree Ambulance which take care of sick and dying trees are some more measures backed by the Delhi government, in which the government encouraged public participation. Furthermore, The Delhi Preservation of Trees Act, 1994 established Tree Authority including a Tree Officer, a tree helpline number to report illegal felling of trees, permission for cutting/felling/removal/disposal of the tree. More than a million trees were planted under the City Plants a Million Tree Campaign by the government in 2011. It resembles exceptional efforts for the preservation, maintenance, and growth of trees by the Delhi government to sustain the ecology of the region (Imam and Banerjee 2016).
Benefits of Urban Green Spaces
Urban green spaces and nature-based solutions will provide innovative solutions to enhance the quality of urban space, local resilience, and encourage sustainable lifestyles, positively impacting both the health and the well-being of urban inhabitants. Ecosystems provide essential benefits or services to us. These benefits are categorized into the different types of services like provisioning services which are provided by plants and trees, regulating services provided by wetlands and pollination of crops, supporting services that underpin all other services and finally there are cultural services such as valuable benefits of spending time in nature. In recent times these ecosystem services have been overlooked while increasing human pressures on the ecosystem and threatening these vital systems which are vital for sustainable living.
These ecosystem services provided by the urban green will help residents to ensure adequate opportunities for exposure to nature, maintain and protect biodiversity and provide protection from environmental adversities such as air or water pollution or even the harsh impacts of climate change such as heatwaves, extreme rainfall or flooding. This will enhance the quality of urban living; the health and overall well-being of the urban residents will improve.
An urban green provides a significant part of public open spaces and common services provided by the city while also serving as a health-promoting climate for all people of the urban settings (World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe 2017). Accordingly, it is necessary to ensure that the green spaces are available for all and distributed equitably within the city (ibid).
Policy challenges for Delhi
Delhi being a union territory with a dual administrative setup and being managed by both the government of NCT and the central government has jeopardized the greening program in the city. For example, all four Delhi Municipal Corporations are under the control of the central government, but they work for the city. Multiple directives by different agencies for the same work slows the process down and sometimes even paralyses and makes the initiative defunct. This lack of coordination and planning affects not only the pace of greening in the city but also nullifies the efforts taken by the administrative agencies.
An imbalance between the rapidly increasing city population and climate change impacts the ecosystem services provided by the urban green areas in the city. Various forms of pollution have made the situation more hazardous especially in winters when Delhi is referred to by some as the ‘gas chamber’. Public participation is a must to make any program or policy to be successful which is, unfortunately, missing in the city. For example in Vancouver, tens of thousands of residents who have been involved in framing and implementing the green plan have helped in transforming the city and moving towards greenest city goals (City of Vancouver 2012). Delhi needs to learn from such examples and needs to develop a policy on urban greening in Delhi which can enhance the ecosystem and make the city ecosystem resilient in the coming future. We have to develop and frame a policy specific to the city and work on ecological inclusive design and planning with nature-based solutions to mitigate the situation for the coming future.
Yavish is a candidate for the Masters of Public Policy at the Institute of Public Policy, NLSIU, Bengaluru. His interests lie in local governance, environmental issues, and climate change. Yavish’s interests have merged in his dissertation under which he is trying to explore the possibility of an Urban Greening Policy in the state of Delhi. When not thinking policy Yavish loves to play all kinds of sports especially volleyball and hockey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Harris, Gardiner. 2014. The New York Times. May 8. Accessed October 11, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/09/world/asia/cities-in-india-among-the-most-polluted-who-says.html.
Singh, Dr. Govind. 2019. “Environmental Issues of Delhi.” Delhi Greens. May 1. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://delhigreens.org/causes/environmental-issues-and-concerns-of-delhi/.
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