By Devesh Pant
Everyone knows the land price in Dehradun is escalating by the day. Most private estates that were once havens of greenery are now getting parcelled out into “plots”. Ironically green-painted steel sheets cordon off these plots and the trees get felled and whisked away. JCBs can then ply on barren land protected from the gaze of tree-lovers by these green-coloured steel sheets. Does the government bother that it is incurring a huge loss in very many ways?
Coming straight to the point: why is the presence of trees not being meticulously recorded in the proposed “plots”?
And what is the value of a mature tree; has our FRI made it known to each of us how valuable a mature tree is? I have not come across any such information bearing the authority of the FRI. The last time one came to know the value of a mature tree was from a newspaper article and it was estimated at Rs 25 lakhs several years ago.
We now have Google Earth Maps; I think every Green Spot in the City can be recorded in real time in such maps. That should make it possible that land-owners cannot deny the presence of trees on their land. Next, such real time maps should make it possible that every likely proposed “plot” must get the trees recorded on it. The property must thereafter get valued and the value of trees must be included in it.
A question arises. Can we get our Land Revenue Officials headed by the District Collector of Revenue on board to get the trees recorded on the lands? It’s a new approach and a crucial first step to help save urban greenery. One feels every tree-lover should jump in and make it happen.
If that happens, the itinerant surreptitiously tree-felling types of “Builders” and Property Dealers must give way to Green Architects and Green Builders who can plan buildings that can be built around the trees and not over the land that once had trees. And if a tree has to go, can’t it be transplanted? Or, can’t its progeny be cloned or propagated in a Climate-Controlled Green House?
If the City is getting filled with concrete blocks of houses it calls for earmarking Green Belts around it, where such transplantations can be made.The Forest Department must man these Green Belts; apportioning a value to trees means extra revenue to the government which can help pay for Greening the Green Belt. If the Himachal Government could install a Climate Controlled Green House (CCGH) initially innovated by the ecologically inspired Roorkee University Electrical Engineers way back in the 1980s, it is time our Forest Department also had one such working here. Even leaves with bits of stem of trees difficult to propagate, sprouted copious roots in the prototype CCGH. The design of the CCGH was eagerly replicated by the ecologically–inspired Himachal Government in the 80’s.
Coming again to the main point – it is the value of the trees in the land which must be part of the sale proceedings. Such a tree-filled landowner would get higher prices; the Green Builder who buys this tree-filled land and the land-owner must then help pay for relocating the trees or propagating their progenies in the Green Belt. The government shall get extra revenue from sales of tree-filled lands and it can lavish this on Green Belts and also prevail upon Green Builders and Green Land owners to pay for their part in greening of the Green Belt.
That will call for the District Revenue Collector to act effectively to collect extra revenue from all such sales of tree-filled lands. The “Circle Rates” of tree-filled lands must be proportionately much higher. How much depends on the value accorded to a living individual tree in the City.
Next, a word must also be said about what must accrue in terms of money to the land-owner who wants to preserve his or her Green Haven as it is replete with all its trees and flora and doesn’t want to sell it. The media has forgotten all talk of paying a “Green Bonus”. If the Government is loath to pay a Green Bonus to a tree-owning land-owner it must entitle the tree-owning person to make a sizeable deduction in the amount of income-tax being levied on the person; after all he is rendering a public service by providing a Green Lung to breathe in.
As it is, saving trees on ancestral property is extracting a heavy price in resolutely protecting it from depredators. We have yet to have Green Lawyers, who can take up “Tree Protection” to be a worthwhile cause and make the Courts also “see” Green. Both Revenue and Civil Courts including Courts trying Criminal Cases must take cognisance of offenses of Tree-Felling and give succour to the person seeking to preserve them. I think Lawyers are afraid of being branded downright silly if they begin espousing the Green–crusade of their Tree-saving client. They would much prefer being far too clever by half by surreptitiously betraying their Green client in favour of an anti-Green Opposite Party and its supporting “anti-Green builder”. That way, one feels a much larger “picking” must come to such lawyers’ pockets from elements that are bent upon getting the trees butchered and getting the ground “cleared” of Greenery.
The Police have also a role in preserving Urban Greenery. It is ironic and shocking that over the years the Police have gathered a reputation that they are more feared by the decent law-abiding person and least by the criminally inclined and actual criminals. That is the perception that an ordinary person carries. I am resolutely pursuing why a Green-property owner who was set against “Builder mafia” came to meet a violent, untimely end.
Tree-loving persons in Doon have a course open to them of constantly trying to draw media attention to the cause of saving Greenery within the City. If Tree-loving persons or the TLPs can overcome individual inhibitions and perhaps “upper crust exclusiveness” they could even come together under one banner to promote a serious examination of what has been proposed here.