Carnage in the Name of Beauty

City Environment Health Magazine Opinion

Trees hold the key to controlling pollution and protecting human health, says Nidhi Kajaria

Indiscriminate tree felling for infrastructural development has become a major source of environmental stress in India. According to data released by the union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, between April 2016 and March 2019 as many as 76,72,337 trees were cut down for various projects. In a five-year time-span, the ministry has given permission to cut down 1,09,75,844 trees in the name of development.

Says Divya Karnad, professor of environmental science at Ashoka University, Sonipat, “The unplanned infrastructural policy is leading to the countless number of trees felled. The environment ministry should look at the impact of cutting each and every tree on the environment and should prepare for its outcome.”

According to the Rainforest Action Network, 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut down each year worldwide. The impact of such widespread felling on the environmental imbalance is ignored. One major impact which is associated with it is the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere which is leading to the alarming rate of global warming.

Healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, acting as valuable carbon sinks. Deforested areas lose that ability, the consequence of which is the release of an estimated 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere globally each year.

Tree felling contributes to habitat loss and severely impacts the lives of multiple plant and animal species. Numerous studies have shown that weather changes are directly proportional to the loss of forest coves and the wholesale destruction of the Earth’s remaining rainforests and tree cover is causing a climate crisis.

According to a study, there are on average 422 trees per person worldwide but just 28 trees per person in India. A tree census released by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) states that the tree-human ratio in Mumbai is 1:4, that is one tree for every four people; the ideal ration is believed to be 7:1, according to the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.  

In February 2019 alone, 1,500 trees were cut to widen up four roads in the country’s capital. Similarly, in October 2019, 2,700 trees were cut down in Mumbai to make way for a subway carriage depot. Both led to massive public protests in the two cities.

There is always an environmental cost attached to economic development. Trees and forests are among the few readily available means we have to reduce the effect of the greenhouse gases we generate. If we can’t expect industry and transport to switch overnight to less-polluting fuels, we should seek every other means to mitigate their effects.

The only solution left to this is to create awareness among people and educate them about the importance of a healthy tree cover and the need to regenerate forests on an emergency footing. With rapid urbanization, the green belts that surround cities are fast depleting so it should be made mandatory for cities to grow trees. Stricter laws should be enforced to prevent infrastructural activities that harm the atmosphere in any way that creates an environmental imbalance. Clear-cutting of forests should be banned. Government policies should focus on saving the environment and promoting every effort that reduces the release of carbon in the atmosphere. 

As India is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with a still fast-growing population, it will be difficult to balance both the requirement of space to house the population and increasing our tree cover. But there is no other option. 

The appalling air quality in our cities, with New Delhi’s now ranked as the world’s worst, will take a terrible toll on human health long before the full consequences of climate change become obvious. 

nidhi.k@iijnm.org

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