The air quality in Delhi-NCR has been deteriorating significantly, with the Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassing the 700 mark in certain areas of the city. This is not a new issue for Delhi, which has a history of grappling with severe air pollution. In October, Delhi recorded its highest levels of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5. The deteriorating air quality has been a cause for concern among the residents and environmentalists.
In response, the Delhi government, led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, last year initiated a project to address the issue by removing the invasive Vilayati Kikar plants that had proliferated in the region.
The Delhi Cabinet approved a project aimed at restoring the biodiversity of the 423-hectare Central Ridge, with the Central government allocating a budget of Rs 12.21 crore for the initiative. The project is anticipated to be completed within five years. With the recent surge in AQI levels in Delhi, people are now questioning the progress and effectiveness of this restoration project, which gained attention last year.
In April 2022, Forest and Environment Minister Gopal Rai initiated an effort to combat the invasive Vilayati Kikar. This species of plant was found to be most prominent in the 7,777-hectare ridge area of Delhi, and it was identified as a major contributor to climate change in the national capital. Gopal Rai emphasised the significance of this step in the battle against pollution in the city. Under the pilot project, the work to clear 10 hectares of land in the Central Ridge began, marking the first phase of the restoration effort. Following the completion of this phase, the restoration process will expand to cover an additional 7,500 hectares.
The removal of the invasive tree species is being carried out through a canopy lifting method, as the Central Ridge is designated as a Reserve forest, making complete uprooting unfeasible. These trees and plants release a chemical called allelopathy, which inhibits the growth of other vegetation in proximity. Moreover, these chemicals negatively affect soil fertility and lead to a decline in groundwater levels.