VNRN – The government’s tree-felling project may have started in 2013 when the Hanoi Department of Construction came up with the plan of “overhauling and replacing urban trees in Hanoi during the period 2014-2015.” Or it may have started earlier in 2010 with a government decree, called Decree 64.
June 11, 2010
The government issues Decree 64/2010/ND-CP “on the management of urban trees.” Article 14 of the Decree states that tree felling must be licensed in cases of: trees on the list of conservation; shade trees on the street; shade trees; tree for preservation; trees that are marked in public parks, gardens, public sites and areas under construction; shade tree of at least 10 meter height; trees conserved in the campuses of organizations and individuals.
Article 14 also provides that only in the following cases that tree felling is exempt from license: trees that need felling immediately in case of emergency due to natural disasters; decayed trees. A tree, prior to being chopped down, must be inspected and the status quo must be documented with its snapshot taken.
November 1, 2013
The Hanoi Department of Construction submits the Hanoi People’s Committee with Proposal No. 8542/TTr-SXD, asking for the approval of the scheme of “overhauling and replacing urban trees in Hanoi during the period 2014-2015”. The scheme will later be referred to as “Project 6700 trees” for short.
Under the scheme, the process of “overhauling and replacing urban trees” will take place over two years in the following locations:
- 2014: 46 streets in Ba Dinh district, 60 streets in Hoan Kiem district, 25 streets in Hai Ba Trung district, 16 streets in Dong Da district.
- 2015: 07 streets in Tay Ho district, 05 streets in Thanh Xuan district, 09 streets in Long Bien district, 06 streets in Hoang Mai district, 06 streets in Ha Dong district.
Estimated cost for the project is 73.38 billion. The total number of trees being cut down and/or replaced is 6708 on 190 streets.
November 11, 2013
The Hanoi People’s Committee issues Decision No. 6816/QD-UBND, approving the scheme drafted by the city’s Department of Construction.
January 25, 2014
The Hanoi Department of Construction submits Proposal No. 718/TTr-SXD to the Hanoi People’s Committee for the approval of “planning the system of trees, parks, gardens and lakes in Hanoi until 2030, with a vision for 2050.”
March 18, 2014
The Hanoi People’s Committee issues Decision No. 1495/QD-UBND to adopt the above proposal by the Department of Construction.
August 20, 2013
The Hanoi Department of Natural Resources and Environment submits Proposal No. 4585/TTR-STNMT-CCMT to the People’s Committee, requesting the approval of a biodiversity conservation plan for Hanoi until 2030.
September 24, 2014
The Hanoi People’s Committee issues Decision No. 4924/QD-UBND to approve the above proposal by the local Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
November 4-5, 2014
More than 500 trees on Nguyen Trai street are felled to serve the high-speed railway between Cat Linh (Hanoi) and Ha Dong. Many are big trees with diameters ranging from 50 to 80cm.
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The Department of Construction suggests “replacing green trees that do not fit in the category of urban green trees or conserve urban landscape, and trees that are bent, tilted, bad-looking, or decayed in 5 streets: Trang Thi, Ly Thuong Kiet, Thanh Nien, Phan Chu Trinh, Hai Ba Trung”. The replacement shall be made in the form of “socialization”.
150 mahoganies along the streets of Nguyen Trai (Hanoi) and Tran Phu (Ha Dong), some up to 30 meters high with diameter of over 50 centimeters, were massively cut down. The office in charge of chopping down these trees is the state-owned Hanoi Green Tree company, and they does so at the request of the Hanoi Department of Construction and with the prior permission of the Hanoi authorities, who explain that trees must be chopped down to get more space for the high-speed railway between Cat Linh (Hanoi) and Ha Dong.
In a document numbered 695/UBND-XDGT, the Hanoi People’s Committee approves the January 14 proposal by the Department of Construction.
The Department of Construction, in the implementation of “the guidance by the Hanoi People’s Committee, as written in Document 695/UBND-XDGT”, requests some other relevant offices to “socialize the replacement of trees that do not fit in the category of urban green trees or meet required standards” on the 5 streets mentioned above. (“To socialize” is an euphemism for “privatization”, “equitization”, or simply “doing together”.) The Department also urges relevant authorities to rapidly implement the guidance so that “all things are done within May.”
So the tree-felling project commences. Trees have been chopped down in different parts of Hanoi as from early March.
Trees on Nguyen Chi Thanh street, once elected as “the most beautiful road in Vietnam”, are felled.
Journalist Tran Dang Tuan sends an open letter to Nguyen The Thao, Chairman of the Hanoi People’s Committee, suggesting a delay in cutting trees for more research.
Deputy Head of the Propaganda Department, Phan Dang Long, is asked in a press interview (sideline to the weekly meeting of the Propaganda Department to instruct the press) about the open letter from journalist Tran Dang Tuan. He replies, “Mr. Tran Dang Tuan is an ordinary citizen. The City has already had a master plan with many public offices involved. Even if he does not agree to it, he is just one among many ordinary citizens. What if there are many other people who agree?”
Reporter: “You mean, the citizenry has not been consulted?”
Phan Dang Long: “Do you mean we have to consult the people on everything? It’s just a project to fell trees. I am asking you: If we have to consult the people about everything, so what is it for to elect the government?”
Regarding the open letter from journalist Tran Dang Tuan, a spokesman for the Hanoi People’s Committee says Mr. Nguyen The Thao, Chairman of the Committee, has instructed the Department of Construction to “directly supervise the overhaul and replacement of trees in the city and make sure that it complies with urban planning and meets the requirement in urban management and development.” At the same time, the Department of Construction is requested to “work closely with the local authorities and the media to release information and create consensus in the implementation of the project.”
Some young students from different universities in Hanoi hang slogans calling on people to protect trees, and they tie green ribbons around the mahoganies in Giang Vo street.
On the same day, three lawyers Tran Vu Hai, Nguyen Ha Luan and Le Van Luan co-signed an urgent letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, requesting him to stop the tree-felling project and seriously punish those who are involved and have violated laws.
In the morning, some people launch a protest against tree felling in Hanoi.
In the afternoon, the Hanoi People’s Committee hold a press conference on “Project 6700 trees”. Reporters raise dozens of questions, which demonstrates a public concern about the massive felling of trees. However, Deputy Chair of the People’s Committee, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Hung, does not answer any question. He just says the Project is a good policy, only that “the impatience of the sponsors, added with a lack of transparence in the implementation period, makes the public unconsenting.
While all reporters are asked to submit their official press card and official invitation to attend the press conference, there is an individual introducing himself as “a representative of the people” and praising the Project. This “representative of the people” also criticizes the press for raising such questions.
A spokesperson for VP Bank confirms to the press that VP Bank, as a sponsor of the Project, only finances planting, not felling trees in Nguyen Chi Thanh street, implying that they are not impatient as mentioned by the authorities in the previous press conference. Another sponsor, VinGroup, also says they support this Project at the request of the Hanoi authorities.
Many young people in Hanoi begin to participate in the campaign “Tie a yellow ribbon around each tree trunk”. Wherever the ribbons are tied, the police and civil defense forces come and “confiscate” them.
In the morning, many people join the Tree Hug event held by some civil society organizations at Thien Quang lake. People take photograph and pose with trees, singing, holding banners, wearing advocacy T-shirt, and calling to stop cutting trees and protect the environment.
In the evening, a group of people hold a commemoration ceremony between tree stumps in Nguyen Chi Thanh street. The commemoration is aimed to pray for the “souls” of the trees that have been chopped down so that they will rest in peace.
A seminar, “From the Project 6700 trees to Hanoi planning issues”, co-organized by two NGOs, MEC and PanNature, suffers from an unexpected power outage right at the beginning. Despite the unexplained outage, the seminar still takes place, many questions are raised. Some scientists confirm that the new trees being planted to replace the felled trees in Nguyen Chi Thanh street are actually manglietia conifer, not magnolia dandyi as stated by the Hanoi authorities.
Professor Pham Ngoc Dang, Deputy Chair of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment, even adds, “The project of Cat Linh-Ha Dong high-speed railway does not mention chopping down the mahoganies alongside Nguyen Trai street.”
According to lawyer Tran Vu Hai, felling 6700 trees, including 500 mahoganies alongside Nguyen Trai street, constitutes a violation of the 2012 Capital Law and the government’s Decree 64/2010/ND-CP “on the management of urban trees.”
A rally called Green Walk is held in Hoan Kiem Lake area. Hundreds of people are walking around the lake, holding aloft banners in objection of tree felling and urging the government to be transparent and accountable.
Five lawyers Tran Vu Hai, Nguyen Ha Luan, Tran Thu Nam, Le Van Luan and Truong Chi Cong write an open letter to the Hanoi People’s Committee and the Department of Construction, urging them to be accountable for the felling of mahoganies alongside Nguyen Trai street and the replacement of green treens in Nguyen Chi Thanh street with cheap manglietia conifer.
Despite strict police siege, around 50 people hold a bike ride from West Lake to Hoan Kiem lake to advocate environmental protection and oppose the felling of trees in the capital. They are obstructed and split by the police into small groups before they reach the final destination at Hoan Kiem lake, where they are disturbed by police and civil defense forces.
Under cold rain, a group of 20 students cycle 10 kilometers around Hanoi in T-shirts advocating for tree protection. This is part of their activities to raise public awareness of environmental protection and preservation and to pressure the government to be transparent and accountable.
About 200 people in Hanoi, including largely NGO workers, business staff, civil servants and students, march around Hoan Kiem lake, chanting slogans requesting for environmental protection, government transparency and accountability. The march is organized by a Facebook group, For A Green Hanoi, which is considered to be an “anti-state” organization because it is not legally registered.
At the quarterly press conference, Deputy Inspector General Nguyen Duc Luong says the Hanoi People’s Committee reported to the Government Inspectorate two days before on the process of dealing with wrongdoings in the project of “overhauling and replacing green trees in Hanoi.” However, he does not elaborate on who commit the wrongdoing or how they will be sanctioned. Rather, Nguyen Duc Luong repeats the rhetoric that “this issue will be settled” and that Hanoi is still working on it.
The unregistered group “For A Green Hanoi” organizes the second march around Hoan Kiem lake.
Blogger Trinh Anh Tuan (aka. Gio Lang Thang – Wandering Wind), an admin of the Facebook group “For A Green Hanoi”, is assaulted by plainclothes police. The group calls for the third march to advocate tree protection, request for government transparency, and oppose violence and police harassment.
The third march organized by the group “For A Green Hanoi” is suppressed by hundreds of police and “civic order defenders”. The police arrest 22 people, including five women in Vietnamese traditional ao dai, take them in a bus to the Long Bien police station for interrogation, and try to accuse them of “causing public disorder”. The arrestees are released in the afternoon that same day.