Thorny British tree to be thrown out of biodiversity park

A British import to India the thorny vilayati or the 'foreign' kikar tree has got the High Court's nod to be removed from a biodiversity park as it impedes the growth of natural and native species of plants. The High Court, in a recent judgment, has allowed the Delhi Development Authority-run Aravalli Biodiversity Park a Commonwealth Games project to carry on its own plantation programme that will include the removal of the vilayati kikar or the Prosopis Juliflora tree.

The removal of these trees from the biodiversity park had run into rough weather after a petition filed in the High Court challenged the move. This petition, supported by tree specialist Pradeep Krishen had argued the DDA planned to remove 'green trees' from the park. But DDA's action plan for the park, conceived by the Delhi University's Centre for Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), had identified this plant as a weed or an invasive species. The species, introduced by the British in India, also dominates the Delhi Ridge.

Incidentally, the action plan for the Delhi Ridge, which has been in the pipeline for two years and is being put into place this year, will also look into removing the vilayati kikar from the Ridge.

A survey by the Forest department says 70 per cent of the Ridge plantation is vilayati kikar, which would easily amount to over a lakh trees.

A scientist from CEMDE said: "The Convention of Biodiversity, to which India is a signatory, says that native plants and forest communities have to be preserved. This cannot be done without removing this tree. It is like poison to all other trees. In the beginning, we do heavy pruning of the vilayati kikar to allow sunlight to penetrate to other plants. Then at a later stage, when the native trees have grown, the vilayati kikar can be removed. We have to reclaim the Aravalli forests that once existed. Vilayati kikar is not a part of that."

Several of these trees have already been removed from the Aravalli Biodiversity Park. The DDA's argument in court had read: "We have not said we would introduce African parrots or Australian kangaroos in Aravalli. We are evolving strategies to develop native plant communities in the Biodiversity Park."

The challenging petition had also contested growing orchids and ferns in the same area. But the DDA has said ferns are a part of the native vegetation, and a 30-square-metre pit is being created as an orchidarium for the purpose of education and conservation. All of this has now got a Court go-ahead.

The Ridge revitalisation plan includes planting species that have gone extinct in Delhi, including the mahua and the karaya gum. At a later stage, the vilayati kikar is likely to be removed. A forest department official said: "This tree has no natural enemies and proliferates very fast. It is very difficult to remove."

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