Saturday, 31 October 2009

Commonwealth Games vs Environmental activism

The “Games versus greens” debate is set to make a comeback. After allowing the felling of thousands of trees in the past three years for projects related to Commonwealth Games 2010, the Delhi government will start planting a fresh bunch of trees on the outskirts on Friday, name it after the showpiece event and call it “green”.

As Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit plants the saplings here at 4.30 pm, the Mayor of London will be doing the same in his city some 9,500 km away, alongside the launch of the Queen’s Baton Relay. To embarrass the government before the world at such a prestigious event, a group of activists will also be present at the venue in Delhi with black posters with the message: “This Games is Environmentally Black”.

“This tamasha has to be exposed to the world,” said Prof. Prabhakar Rao, an environmentalist with NGO Kalpavriksh. “They have cut hundreds of trees in the past three years; this kind of plantation drives do not compensate that loss at all.”

In the past three years, construction of flyovers, widening of roads, revamping of stadiums like Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, Talkatora stadium, Delhi University and others, and covering of the storm-water channels (nalas) to make parking lots etc have chopped thousands of full-grown trees of various families largely on the roadside.

The government mandates that for each tree felled, 10 trees will have to be planted as compensation. But due to lack of space, plantings happen on the outskirts.

“The micro-environment of the city is butchered for some feel-good city-forest miles away,” said Diwan Singh of NGO Natural Heritage First. “They have killed the river and chopped the trees for the Games. How can they call the Games green?”

Environment secretary Dharmendra said that the plantation drives were part of Delhi’s carbon offset plans. “Events like the Games involve activities that cause high carbon-dioxide emission. We need carbon-sinks like tree covers to neutralise that.”

While the activists are ready with their posters and a large group of youth and students to make the protest as spectacular as possible, the government is sticking to its own statistics. “In the past two years Delhi’s green cover has increased by 1.68 per cent,” Dharmendra said.


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