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Change in NCR plan threatens Mangar grove

The Times of India, New Delhi, November 25, 2013

One of the last patches of pristine forest land adjoining Delhi may be lost soon if the draft regional master plan for the national capital region (NCR) 2021 is passed in its current forma limit of 0.5% on constructions in the natural conservation zones such as Aravalis has been deleted from it.

The minutes of the sixtyfirst meeting of NCR Planning Board suggest that the Haryana government itself has pitched for removal of this restriction and inclusion of guidelines to control development activities in such eco-sensitive zones.

This will open up places like Mangar for real estate development, possibly destroying one of the most important groundwater recharge zones near Delhi.

Mangar, located off the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway and largely under private ownership, is not categorized as forest land but has all the features of a forest, including thriving wildlife, say villagers and environmentalists. It also acts as a wildlife corridor for animals from the Asola Bhatti sanctuary, which has got a protected area status long ago. Mangar can also act as a buffer zone for the sanctuary.

Mangar,which was once common land, was privatized under dubious circumstances after 1980s, claims environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal. Soon, villagers sold off huge tracts to real estate developers and other companies. However, not much construction took place in the area due to certain policy safeguards, which may go with the new master plan.

Nestled in the middle of this dense scrub forest is a centuries old sacred grove called Mangar Bani. Spread over 200 ha, Bani comes alive with peacocks and other birds chirping away, very old dhau and guggal trees leading up to a shrine. The play of light and shade inside this densely forested patch creates a surreal experience.

Local people say no one dares to even break a branch inside Bani. Villagers have been worshipping Bani for centuries now. I fear that some day even this will be sold off and the precious forest will be destroyed, says Sunil Harsana, a former secretary of the village development committee who wants a protected area status for the hills of Mangar.

Not everyone in the village, however, agrees. Harsana has been threatened several times for attempting to halt real estate development. I had to go away from the village for some days because they were after me. They dont understand how such constructions will impact the forest and our lives, he adds.

Two large real estate companies already own more than 100 ha in these hills and a part of Bani, says Agarwal. There are proposals to make amusement parks and resorts; farmhouses have already come up. There is not a very high demand yet for land here, perhaps because people are not sure about the status of this land. The government should protect Bani from real estate projects. But villagers want to sell the land away, said local property dealer Shyam (name changed).

Despite having a forest cover of just 3.5%way lower than the national average of about 20%neither the Haryana government nor the Union environment and forests ministry had made any effort to identify the area as a forest. However, earlier this year, the ministry asked the state government to make geo-referenced maps of all natural and recorded forests in the area.