Mangar Bani, the remaining patch of green between polluted New Delhi and rapidly urbanising Gurgaon, has been a battlefield between environmentalists and builders – with the environmentalists finally winning!
Just outside Gurgaon and before New Delhi, is a mangrove that has been preserved as is, thanks to the villagers in the area and the concentrated efforts of environmentalists. Mangar Bani is rich in a variety of trees and plants, which attract birds and wild animals such as leopards. It is the only remaining patch of green cover near India’s most polluted city.
The villagers in the area around Mangar Bani believe it is a sin to cut trees. “We believe if you break even a twig in this forest for your personal need, misfortune strikes you. That fear has kept the forest alive for nearly 1000 years,” Fateh Singh, 90 years old, said to the Washington Post.
Yet, it’s been a long hard fight for the villagers to keep builders and land grabbers away from the forest.
From battling it out in courts to marching in streets and pushing for government action, it took six years of efforts to save the 677-acre forest.
In the 1980s, real estate developers queued up to buy the land in large chunks. Then, realising that they wanted to cut down trees, the villagers started to protest. “By the time people woke up and realized what was happening, much of the forest was already sold to real estate companies,” said Sunil Harsana, a 28-year-old villager. “Villagers blocked the takeover when they realized that the buyers actually wanted to cut trees and construct.”
A legal battle was waged over whether Mangar Bani was a forest or farmland.
While real estate companies urged the government to declare it a farmland, environmentalists wanted to call it a forest:
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“The order implies that there is no way to curtail the earlier prohibited real estate and commercial activities on vast tracts of forests, including most parts of the sacred Mangar Bani grove.”
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A video encapsulating citizen support for the cause.
Posted by Gurgaon Rising on Tuesday, 28 April 2015
When illegal loggers came to cut down the forest, the government deployed guards. “For many people, steel and glass buildings are the only expression of development,” said Mrigendra Dari Sinha. “But we need water and forest, too.”
A survey of the forest showed that it had over 30 types of trees, numbering approximately 100,000. It took a nod from the government by Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in 2015 to finally demarcate the area as a forest. A buffer zone of 1200 acres was set up around it. Now, builders aren’t legally allowed to build within the forest.
“The groundwater security of the entire national capital region depends upon protecting and conserving water conservation zones in this region,” Khattar was quoted as saying, “We have a responsibility towards future generations, and real estate companies would be kept out of this ecologically fragile area.”
Meanwhile, environmentalists such as Chetan Agarwal try to raise awareness among the public about the importance of maintaining a green cover.
Agarwal arranges school trips for children to visit the forest, bird-watching tours and even forest walks for residents and research trips for college students. “They have to understand,” he said, “that this forest can easily disappear if they are not alert.”
With depleting water levels in Gurgaon, this patch of green could be the only way the city can survive and breathe. The legal win for Mangar Bani could be an inspiration for people around India to bring back their forests!