The decision to protect the Mangar Bani forest in Faridabad and a 500-metre buffer as a no-construction zone is a remarkable one. This declaration by Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar recently has been widely welcomed, and could mark a turning point in the battle between the government and environmentalists campaigning to save the Haryana Aravallis, especially the Mangar Bani.
The region is under threat from real estate developers and urban expansion via faulty master plans. The Mangar hills were panchayat common lands till the 1970s, but were converted into private holdings in the 1980s. In 2012, the environment ministry put the Mangar Development Plan on hold till deemed forests were identified in accordance with Supreme Court orders.
This process is still not complete but in 2013 the focus shifted to the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) as the limits on construction were sought to be diluted to favour real estate groups. The protection of the Mangar Bani and a 500-metre buffer was offered on April 25 as a disguised dole, so that Haryana could get its sub-regions approved and start issuing Change of Land Use, which were on hold due to court orders. Given this, Khattar’s declaration seems like a breath of fresh air.
The Mangar Bani is a locally revered sacred grove and years of forbearance — no cutting of trees, lopping of branches, or even breaking of twigs or leaves — has protected this old-growth forest.
This forest has been studied intensively by biologists and has been found to be one of the last remaining natural tropical forests of the Aravalli Hills in the NCR. Other forests have been decimated by the onslaught of urban sprawl and disposal of garbage or modified into manicured parks and gardens.
The Mangar Bani is a high biodiversity zone. It is the only place within the central NCR region where almost 30 different tree species native to the Aravallis have been recorded as thriving. A two-day assessment produced more than 100 herbs and shrubs. Wild animals and even rare birds have been spotted here. Apart from its biodiversity values, the Mangar Bani and its surroundings form a water catchment and groundwater recharge zone.
However, a small patch of forest, which is the Mangar Bani, cannot ecologically sustain itself without the connectivity to other forest areas, and the presence of a whole gamut of microhabitats that its organisms require. The surrounding areas of the Mangar Bani still have dense, open, and scrub forest cover, though degraded. This whole corridor needs to be protected, which will contribute to long-term ecological security of the entire Gurgaon-Faridabad stretch.
Ghazala Shahabuddin is a researcher and consultant on biodiversity and forestry issues. The views expressed are personal.