The Green Fix for Delhi’s Deteriorating Air Conditions

It’s never a surprise to find Delhi in news for its escalating air pollution levels. Delhi is on the cusp of a re-run of the same situation: a combination of high levels of pollution as a result of forest fires and agricultural burning, fireworks during the Deepavali celebrations and changing meteorological conditions.

Delhi and the National Capital Region is an urban ecosystem which is known for the river Yamuna and the Northern extension of Aravalli hills constituted as the Delhi Ridge. According to a survey of 1,600 global cities by the World Health Organization, the air quality in Delhi is the worst amongst any city in the world; which irreversibly damages the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 per cent of all children in Delhi. Not only this, in a recent report by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, it was showcased that the total emission of particulate matter (PM 2.5) increased in Delhi by 12 per cent in 2018 as compared to the year 2010. The report further showcased that transport is the major contributor to this increase (41 per cent) followed by windblown dust from roads and other sources (21.5%) and industries (18.6%). This particulate matter of 2.5 is fatal for human lungs as it causes several respiratory problems.

Furthermore, Delhi’s aquifers also stand in danger of depletion on account of excessive use; rampant construction activity has contaminated them with cement, paints, varnishes and other construction materials. As per the data of Delhi Government, a total of 112,169 trees have been cut down from 2005 to February 2018  for the construction of Delhi Metro and Rapid Transit System. Avian diversity is also on the decline in Delhi; perhaps the considerable example of this are the sparrows, which were once abundant in the region. Not to forget, the major culprits – dust particles from Rajasthan, drift towards the NCR and the urban heat island effect leads to the formation of a low pressure over Delhi, which causes the movement of the wind towards the capital.

According to the Down To Earth Magazine, for more than 3 billion years, the Aravallis have stood strong against the advance of the Thar Desert towards the fertile soils of eastern Rajasthan and the Indo-Gangetic plains – preventing dust from entering Delhi and checking its air quality.  However, now, the oldest mountain chain stands degraded- the range has shrunk by 40 per cent over the last four decades. The Aravalli range plays a critical role in checking the wind velocity and evaporation to prevent sand migration from the Thar Desert to Delhi-NCR.

Measures taken up by social enterprises like Grow-Trees to restore the green cover that the capital once relished are the need of the hour. Grow-Trees allows corporates and individuals to greet their loved ones with eTreeCertificates at a nominal rate of 85 INR. “Despite having many state-sponsored comprehensive plans for pollution checks, they still remain on the paper and are not being implemented. The only green fix that can potentially control the air pollution levels, without much investment are trees. We often wonder how something so basic can restore extensive problems of the capital city. Trees or forests are believed to the jewel house of ecosystem diversity and there would be nothing better than restoring them in the centres of entropy for checking air pollution and creating relaxation points in the urban landscape.”, says Bikrant Tiwary, CEO of Grow-Trees.

Grow-Trees has started its project of planting 25,000 native trees to increase forest cover for nearly 25 hectares of land in the areas of Burari, Jagatpur, Mayur Vihar, Mukundpur, Nirankari Sarovar in Delhi-NCR region. The trees in the project are sought to improve the overall air quality and ecosystem services by acting as carbon sinks for the massive amounts of carbon dioxide generated every day from automobiles, industries, dust, etc. Trees will help in sequestering atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis and return oxygen back into the atmosphere as roughly half of the greenhouse effect is caused by C02 at the Earth’s atmosphere. Implementing the project will greatly support the sequestration of 1,250,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually (average 50 pounds of carbon dioxide sequestered per tree per year -Forestry Research and Engineering, May 2018). Elimination of particulate matter from the atmosphere through trees will automatically reduce respiratory problems. The presence of trees in urban landscape diminishes fine particulate matter in the atmosphere within a few hundred meters of the plantation range. Other benefits of trees include – reduction of topsoil erosion, decrease in the force of storms and surface runoff, replenishment of groundwater table, removal of toxic minerals from the aquifers and reduction of street flooding and sedimentation in streams.

Apart from this, trees will attract a host of birds and animals which are almost on the verge of extinction like sparrows. Trees will also provide shade, reduce water and air temperatures and contribute to the overall health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems by providing habitat, shelter and food to their species. Thus, the project also contributes positively to the United Nations 2030 agenda on Sustainable Development Goals on Climate Action (13) and Life on Land (15) with the promotion of large native forests.

Trees species like Ashoka, Neem, Golden shower (Cassia fistula), Arjuna, Gulmohar among other valued native species will be planted.  These species have been selected with stakeholder consultations based on the local suitability, survivability, and usage.

Such initiatives are precedent of how private entities can provide holistic approaches for managing the current soaring pollution levels in urban landscapes like Delhi. Social enterprises like Grow-Trees have been creating positive effects that influence local and regional development by satisfying local and regional needs, creating jobs in the community, developing relational assets in business processes, and restoring community solidarity. Through the help and engagement of local communities, Grow-Trees strives for the improvement of services endowed to us by mother nature.

Over the last 9 years, Grow-Trees has been able to successfully plant over 4 million trees across 16 states of India. The projects over the years have addressed themes related to wildlife and biodiversity, water, the Himalayas, and rural and tribal communities. Their nominal rate of 85 INR for planting and consistency has made them the Indian stalwarts of forests. Started by Mr Pradip Shah, the founder of India’s first credit-rating agency, CRISIL and Mr Karan Shah, Grow-Trees is known for providing timely audits through third-party organisations on the successful completion of the project. These audits provide corporates with authentic and reliable data to report in their annual reports. And, if by any case, there are fewer saplings, Grow-Trees grows them again through their own resources. “We are driven to plant a million trees this monsoon, irrespective of any external help as our organization is completely based upon self-sustainable approach”, shares Bikrant Tiwary, CEO of Aside from planters, Grow-Trees has more than 500 corporate partners who regularly honour their employees/customers/stakeholders through their customized eTreeCertificates and firmly believe in investing heavily in the realm of sustainability.