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The real estate boom has jeopardised NCR forests
Tanushree Bhasin  11th May 2013

Mangar village | Photo: Aban Usmani

aced by an incredible rise in population and challenges of housing, Delhi in its new avatar — Delhi NCR, is expanding rapidly. Like a monstrous apparition, Delhi NCR is swallowing small villages and sleepy towns that had remained undisturbed for years. Burgeoning urbanisation has implied that glittering skyscrapers replace what were previously pristine forest areas. The Mangar Bani forest spread over 500 acres on the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway is perhaps the last remaining stretch of virgin forests in NCR. Today, however, this ancient forest stands on the brink of extinction.

Over the past few years a number of evironmentalists and social activists have tried to draw attention to the implications of real estate development in this area. Slowly, but steadily, the area around the Aravalli range has been gobbled up by realtors and property sharks. Mangar Bani today stands as the last stretch of the once flourishing ridge vegetation.

Not only does the forest help preserve the ecological balance of the Delhi area, particularly when it comes to maintaining the groundwater level, Mangar Bani also holds a specific historical and cultural value for the villages that exist within it. Quite like the Bishnois of Rajasthan, who are known to protect their trees and animals, the Gujjars of Mangar revere the flora and fauna that surrounds them. They make a conscious effort to protect the Dhau trees of this forest, which they consider scared as the forest is believed to have been the abode of a saint, Gudariya Das Baba. The forest also houses a temple to Gudariya Baba and the locals claim they never cut trees in the forest as Gudariya Baba warned them not to.

Not only does the forest help preserve the ecological balance and groundwater level of the Delhi area, Mangar Bani also holds a specific historical and cultural value for the villages that exist within it.

Recently, a group of convergent journalism students from Jamia Milia Islamia University have begun an interesting crusade to protect Mangar Bani. These students have charted a plan to not only carry out this fight under the leafy arena of the forest, but also to mobilise their resources online. Through a blog and a Facebook group, these students have brought together troops — students, environmentalists, filmmakers, activists — for this forest's last stand.Image 2nd

"We're a group of five, and to understand the issue properly we went and spent three days in the Mangar village. During this time we conducted a number of interviews with locals who explained the problem to us in great detail. Each of these interviews we then put online for public access," said Mohammed Basit about their project.

Their time in the village also shed light on the fact that the community is not unified in its rejection of real estate development. Locals who used to be miners earlier have lost their livelihood after mining was stopped in the area. "So while some want high rises and sky scrapers to come up so that new means of livelihood can be found, others want to protect the forest and the Aravallis at any cost," added Basit.

The group which also includes — Aban Usmani, Devang Chaturvedi, Reema Behl and Akhlas Ahmad, now plans to turn the blog into a full-fledged website where they will carry on the work they have done so far. "Reporting on non-glamourous issues such as these has become very difficult. We want to use this platform we have created to build a network of concerned individuals and experts so that the density of coverage can increase," said Basit.

While efforts to save the forest have been persistent, fresh evidence surfaced recently pointing to the brazen felling of at least 100 trees in the area. Clearly, the fate of the forest remains quite uncertain.

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