A silent botanical disaster engulfs India
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2005 12:07:51 PM ]
NEW DELHI: As water crisis in the Capital is deepening, Delhi University scientists at Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) are spending listless nights.
Unlike most who blame population growth for the water crisis, scientists point at a thorny exotic weed , prosopis juliflora, locally known as vilayati babul or kikar, responsible for pushing ground water table down and drying up surface soil killing vegetation in Delhi green lands.
"It's a masive botanical disaster still continuing from the Raj's days," they accuse.
DU biologists and botanists are awaiting Supreme Court ruling on a presentation how the weed caused devastation in the Delhi green areas and pushed border regions to the preliminary stage of desertification.
On a recent PIL by a few citzens at Vasant Kunj and a local NGO challenging the CEMDE decision to fell the weed at the park, the court about two months back had asked the DDA to file an affidavit explaining why the weed needed to be felled at the 630-acre Aravali Biodiversioty Park.
The CEMDE scientists are at work in the park to replicate pristine Aravali flora and fauna, which was demolished over the years since the Raj's time. The lush Aravali green has yielded place to this weed, which is responsible for fast desertification of the Aravali regions, including Rajasthan.
The DDA has filed its affidavit last week and reported to TNN that it has explained why the weed needs to be felled at the ridge forest areas to sustain water. Since then all concerned are awaiting the court's observation and rulings.
Pro vice chancellor CR Babu, who heads the CEMDE team of scientists, said on Wednesday, "We are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on the weed. We have made all concerned aware of our findings, explained with documental proofs why we consider the plant needs to be felled immediately throughout the Aravalli range, to grow the native plants and proper vegetation."
At an exclusive to Times News Network, Babu said, "The weed has tremendous natural growth potentials. Its stem is very strong goes down even beyond 15 meters to suck undergorund water from the acquifers. It also dries up the moisture of the surface soil, which is why native plants can't grow. This creates desert-like situations. Wherever its fruits will travel, the weed will take roots. That's how it has spread throughout the NCT regions and some states, though the Raj had initially planted it at a limited space. Even its pollens are known to cause asthma."
The weed, vilayati babul or kikar, can be found in entire Rajasthan, where plantation and agriculture are not possible. Similar reports are available from Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
A recent report by Nairobi based English daily The Nation (May 20) said Kenyans are p in arms against the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UNO for introducing the exotic prosopis juliflora, but not owning the responsibility for damages it has caused. Kenyan National Environment management Authority is all set to move the World Court against the FAO.
Similar reactions have also been heard from the Ethiopia, where the weed has been branded as a Devil Tree, causing deserts and famine like situations.
In India the weed was enthusiastically planted in many states just because it takes roots fast and spreads faster. It was even branded as a poor man's tree for its hardy trunk, used as fire-wood and building thatched houses. The damaging sides dawned on the scientific community only recently.
"You can prove it. Test soil where PJs are standing in good numbers and compare it with they aren't allowed to grow, such as Delhi University gardens. You'll notice the difference," said RS Yadav, Babu's deputy at CEMDE.
NCT's deputy chief conservator of forests Subhas Chander said, "It's planted by the British Raj in mid-19th century while shifting the Raj capital from Calcutta to Lutyen's Delhi. They found the new area arid, and wanted to grow just anything. It's only recently the scientist community discovered the plant as invader and noxious."
His chief, AK Sinha added, "We're cautious now. The Raj's India experiment must not be allowed to bring calamity to Indian forests. Entire Corbett is forested by the prosopis, which needs to be felled to grow native plants.