Monday, June 22, 2015

Timeline of the tree-felling project and tree-protecting campaign in Hanoi (updated)



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.

* * *

May 14, 2010

The Hanoi People's Committee issues Decision 19/2010/QD-UBND enacting the “Regulation on managing the green urban trees, public parks, gardens, and zoos in the city of Hanoi” whose Article 3, point 2, stipulates that “the selection of trees... shall not damage or adversely impact the infrastructure beneath, on or over the ground, and shall be based upon the list of trees eligible to be grown in urban areas.”

The Regulation also includes Article 14 on “trimming, cutting and replacing green trees,” Article 17 on banned activities, including “wrongful or unpermitted trimming, cutting and replacing green trees” (point 2) and “growing trees in unconformity with urban planning or trees that are not in the permitted categories” (point 8). 

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 by bloggers as “Project 6700 green 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 Vietnamese dongs. 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.

* * *

2015

January 14

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 cost is proposed to be covered by “socialization”. (Photo courtesy of VnExpress)

January 29

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, are 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.

January 30

In a document numbered 695/UBND-XDGT, the Hanoi People’s Committee approves the January 14 proposal by the Department of Construction.

February 10

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 starting in early March.

March 14

Trees alongside Nguyen Chi Thanh, the street once elected as “the most beautiful road in Vietnam”, are felled.

March 16

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.

March 17

Photo courtesy of VNN
At a weekly meeting where the Paty’s Propaganda Meeting gives instructions to the press, the Department’s Deputy Head, Phan Dang Long, is asked 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 cut trees. I am asking you: If we have to consult the people about everything, what is the point of electing the government?”

March 18

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.”

March 19

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.

March 20

In the morning, dozens of 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 transparency 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.

March 21

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.

March 22

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.

March 23

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.”

March 29

A rally called Green Walk is held in Hoan Kiem Lake area. Hundreds of people are walking around the lake, holding banners protesting the tree cutting and urging the government to be transparent and accountable.

April 2

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 trees in Nguyen Chi Thanh street with cheap manglietia conifer.

April 5

Despite strict police siege, around 50 people hold a bike 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.

April 9

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.

April 12

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.

April 15

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.

April 19

The unregistered group “For A Green Hanoi” organizes the second march around Hoan Kiem lake.

Photo courtesy of RFA
April 22

Blogger Trinh Anh Tuan (aka. Gio Lang Thang – Wandering Wind), one of the admins of the Facebook group “For A Green Hanoi”, is assaulted by plainclothes police. The group calls for the third march which adds issues of violence and police harassment to the agenda in addition to tree protection and government transparency.

April 26

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 detainees are released in the afternoon that same day.

May 6

Representatives of the group “For A Green Hanoi” bring the open letter of April 2 composed by lawyers to the headquarter of the Hanoi People’s Committee as a reminder to them that there are questions they must be answerable for.

May 8

Young members of the group “For A Green Hanoi” go to the Hoan Kiem district hall with a list of queries for the National Assembly deputies. They were notified on the day before that the Hanoi National Assembly delegation will meet constituents of Hoan Kiem district on May 8, and that of Ba Dinh and Tay Ho districts on May 9. So they believe the meeting will be an opportunity for the group to exercise their citizens’ rights by questioning their representatives.

However, all the young constituents are stopped outside the hall. Dozens of police and plainclothes security agents are developed in the area to prevent them from getting inside.

May 11

Another active member of the group “For A Green Hanoi”, Mr. Nguyen Chi Tuyen (a.k.a. Anh Chi), a human rights activist in Hanoi, is brutally attacked by 5 masked men who hit him on his head with iron bars in what looks like an assault by police-sponsored thugs. The savage assault provokes a huge anger in social media networks. Hundreds of Vietnamese facebookers inside and outside of the country change their avatar into Tuyen’s bloody head.

Western diplomats in Hanoi visit Nguyen Chi Tuyen and express their concern over the abuse of violence as a tactic to curb dissent voices in Vietnam, while the local authorities remain absolutely silent.

May 17

Despite police harassment and intimidation, nearly 100 members of the group “For A Green Hanoi” visit Nguyen Chi Tuyen at his hometown near Chua Huong [Huong Pagoda], a scenic tourist spot in the suburb of Hanoi.

May 28

The 22 protesters contemporarily arrested in the march “Walking for the Green Trees” of April 26 file a complaint to the police department of Hanoi, denouncing police and the so-called “civil order defense” forces for arbitrary detention of peaceful activists. This is the first time Vietnamese protesters take a legal action against those who suppress them, although there is very little chance that any authority will deal with their complaint.

The “For A Green Hanoi” group hands their second reminder to the Hanoi People’s Committee that there are unanswered questions regarding the  “6700 green trees” project.

Hanoi suffers from the first heat wave in this year’s summer, with daily temperature reaching 42 Celsius degrees (approximately 107 Fahrenheit degrees). According to Mr. Le Thanh Hai, Deputy Director of the National Hydro-Meteorological Service, this is the most excessively hot weather in northern and central Vietnam in the recent 15 years.

May 29

A woman is found dead under extreme hot weather in the public garden of Duong Thanh, central Hanoi, at 5pm.  The victim is later identified as Ms. Pham Thi B., a sixty-year-old homeless woman from Hung Yen, a province 64 kilometers southeast from Hanoi. It is highly likely that she is killed by a heat stroke.

June 13

Questioned by Huynh Nghia, a deputy from Da Nang, in one morning session of the seventh meeting of the 13th National Assembly, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc says “there are some shortcomings in bringing trees down in Hanoi, but just to the extent of incorrectness. What is more important is that Hanoi has gained some experience and has reported to the Government and the Politburo how it earnestly rebuked those who committed wrongdoings in the process of overhauling and replacing trees. The Government highly appreciates that earnestness.”

Photo courtesy of VTC
Two persons are killed and five injured, 140 houses have their roofs blown off, 21 pylons collapse and more than 1000 trees are uprooted in a short but fierce tornado in Hanoi at the end of the day. The disaster provokes a strong debate and conflict when the people who oppose “those anti-state tree protectors” now arise to fight back and blame the environment activists in Hanoi for all the deaths and damage caused by tree collapses.

Worse still, most of the old trees planned to cut down stand strong in the wind while the others, including the newly planted trees, fell over. Many uprooted trees are found with nets and nylon bags covering their roots, and these nets and nylon bags stay intact, showing how recklessly the trees have been planted so that the roots cannot penetrate the nylon.

Photo courtesy of VNN

June 23

More than twenty environmental activists of the “For A Green Hanoi group respond to an apparent invitation to talk from the local People’s Committee. However, local government's representatives tell them that in this case, the people shall not have the right to ask for accountability and government officials do not have an obligation to answer any question from the people.

July 2-3

With temperature reaching 40 Celsius degrees, young members of the “For A Green Hanoi group take to the streets to distribute pamphlets on how to avoid heatstroke.