In search of the lost forest

Green cause

In search of the lost forest

It is a well-known fact that the remaining few hilly or green covers in the national Capital region are under a constant threat of being razed for housing, mining and other needs of our cosmopolitan lives.

However, it is heartening to see a few amongst us- enlightened enough to realise the importance of these nature reserves, struggling hard to preserve them even in the face of government pressure and corporate harassment.

One such group- the ‘Carrot Films’ recently screened The Lost Forest - their 20 minute documentary on Mangerbani- a forest just off the main Gurgaon-Faridabad highway and part of the ancient Aravalli hills.

This 500 acre grove is not just a unique ecosystem home to several species of rare plants and animals, but also sacred to its indigenous habitants- the Mangars- a Rajasthani tribe. However, due to its proximity to urban areas like Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad, and the apathy of authorities, it has landed in the hands of land sharks who want to ‘develop’ it now.

The talented director of The Lost Forest Ishani K Dutta informs us, “About two years back while working on a documentary on traditional methods of forest conservation, I came across the story of Mangerbani- how the villagers here are fighting to protect their grove against all odds.

I felt this is a story in itself and deserves a separate documentary. I contacted various environmentalists, ecologists and legal experts to get their views on the same and put it together.” No doubt, the documentary reflected a true passion for an environmental cause, in-depth research and verifiable information.

In fact, a panel discussion post the screening included not only the experts quoted in the film but the villagers of Mangerbani as well. Chetan Agarwal- an ecological researcher explained the legal tangles behind this issue- how the forest having not been taken over by the Ministry of Forests and Environment was left under community ownership.

Taking advantage of the same private developers bought the forest land from the villagers through unscrupulous means and the Haryana government is supporting this under the Manger Draft Development Plan 2031.

Ghazala Shahabuddin- Professor of Environmental Studies at Delhi University further enlightened all on how important this grove is as an ecosystem. “Mangerbani,” she explained, “is a natural habitat for the ‘Dhau’ tree which grows expertly in extremely dry, rocky and hilly terrain.

In fact, this is the last plant species which grows in such an area. If ‘Dhaus’ are cut down, nothing ever will grow here again. Besides, this provides shelter to many small animals and birds rarely sighted in Delhi.”

The panelists also highlighted the significance of Mangerbani as a groundwater recharge zone. Tykee Malhotra, founder-director of Sanskara Trust- an organization working on such issues informed, “The NCR is already short of groundwater due to over-exploitation.

So if Mangerbani with its many small lakes and watering holes is lost, we may be staring at a water crisis of a devastating scale few years from now.”

The most effective comments, however, came from the villagers themselves. Sunil, one such resident of Mangerbani exclaimed, “The government keeps speaking of development, but we wonder what kind of development they are talking about.

Is this the Gurgaon model of development where a farmer is not worried about his crops but the price of the land, crime is on a rise and the importance of values and ethics going down? If this is the development we are talking about, we certainly don’t want it.”

He added, “I am sure that with today’s technology, a private developer can raise skyscrapers in place of our forest in 10 to 15 years. But can anybody restore the forests even in a thousand years once they are gone ?

If someone can promise me that, I am ready to give away my land.” These are note-worthy questions especially for the residents of NCR and the government.
   

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