On World Environment Day (June 5), Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar spoke about the ministry's decision to encourage 'Urban Forest', or Nagar Van, within the municipal corporations of at least 200 cities. The effort was to green fast degrading urban areas and boost the oxygen-producing capacity in the gasping townships. The ministry used the model of Pune municipal corporation to create a Nagar Van out of a degraded urban badland, as a template.
However, the first Urban Forest that the minister launched in New Delhi today was no degraded land, but an already flourishing park in central Delhi, near the Bharatiya Janata Party's headquarters. The effort, though commendable in a parcel of Delhi that has the worst air pollution record (the ITO area), was disappointing to those who were expecting a completely degraded site, for instance, a garbage dump, to get a makeover. Environment ministry officials said that upgrading public gardens into Urban Forests was also part of the Nagar Van scheme. However, given the paucity of space in cities, every effort at greening counts, and this one is a particularly scientific and intensive effort.
The forest, spread over 4,200 square metres, is set to provide the ventilator support that the area badly needs. The minister said that this would become a dense forest, with 1,200 trees of 59 indigenous species, when fully developed. Ordinarily, it requires an area of at least 30 acres to plant so many saplings. The planners, however, have used a method called the Miyawaki method, which creates a multi-dimensional community of trees of various heights. The method, named after Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, advocates the use of native species, grown so close together that they receive sunlight only from overhead, and not the sides. This results in the trees growing vertically, rather than spreading out in elaborate canopies. It is supposed to speed up the growth of the forest ten times, and make it 30 times denser than regular plantations. This method of forest creation is said to increase water retention in the soil by over 40 per cent, thus making the forest self sustaining within three years. There are also claims that it reduces temperatures in the surroundings by up to 14 degree Celsius.
The forest, work on which began last October, is likely to become self sustainable by next October. Among the trees planted here are local varieties like the jungle jalebi/marodphali, falsa, date, palash, khejri and dhonk.
“Urban forests are the lungs of the cities, acting as an oxygen bank and carbon sink,'' the minister said.