Dehli | Pavement economics thwart Dehli’s planned leaf storm

Delhi is greening—but not quickly enough. In the last 12 years nearly 18 million saplings have been planted in the city to combat air pollution. Now local government is investigating why more haven’t survived. “The survival of even half the saplings should have turned Delhi into a dense forest,” commented a senior official. “Something is terribly wrong.”

The reforestation drive has achieved notable successes: tree cover in Delhi has increased tenfold since the mid-1990s, and currently stands at 20%. Delhiites pride their city as the world’s greenest capital. But authorities expected leafier returns, targeting 30% cover by 2011. One obstacle has been pavement economics: contractors who build roads are paid per square meter, and often lay concrete too close to living trees. This can lead to premature death by blocking vital oxygen and water. Three separate court orders since 2007 have demanded overzealous paving jobs to be cleared.

In some places new concrete has been laid down since. Trees are seen as essential for improving air quality in Delhi, where pollution levels have risen 21% in the last decade. Industrial emissions and traffic—both of which have increased as the economy has grown—are the biggest sources.

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