By Nidhi Singh nee Batra
Yesterday, on the World Environment Day I went for a documentary on ‘Mangar Forest- the need to save Bani(sacred grove)’. Prior to this documentary I had an experience of walking through these Aravali ranges by a walk conducted by Pradip Krishen last year. Wedged between the advancing sprawl of Delhi and Faridabad, and less than an hour’s drive from the iconic Qutab Minar, Mangar Bani is one of the last patches of Aravalli forests with native tree and plant species
In the clutches of new development, commercialization, and fancy tourism project – this sacred grove is being ‘planned’ to be engulfed. This grove has until now been preserved by the local villagers. These villagers are now selling off their land slowly and steadily at extremely low prices to private developers. Villagers regret that in 1970s when the government allowed privatization of the village commons, they sold their share in the common land without knowing the actual location of their holdings. The plots were not demarcated on ground in the village till mid 1980s. The transactions gave private investors a toehold in the Bani. The entire area is now like an isolated island subjected to urbanization pulls.
The villagers were once dependent on this forest, for their fuel stock, fodder etc. these villagers are also now adopting urbanized jobs and leaving agricultural activities behind. Soon they shall be urbanized. An aspect of urbanization is economic prosperity. They are getting the prosperity by selling of their land, even if at cheap prices. But environmentalist believes that this land is a jewel – a jewel of an ecosystem. Some villagers support these environmentalist. Most I fear see the lucrative option of moving into the city. Villagers have now formed a village development committee. The committee has prepared a petition for the forest department, asking it to acquire the Bani land from its current owners.
How should one advocate a case such as this- when environmental value is immense, residents have a right to better livelihood and there is urgent need to stop the private developers on making a mega tourism plan in this precious ecosystem? Amidst this all, Mangar Development Plan 2030 is out- and published late such that environmentalist could not even file their objections on the plan.
Question is – why are environment, poverty, growth and development – all in constant battle in our country?!
Though the Mangar residents are poor at present, can the government not compensate them – and make a model of a sustainable – village managed forest reserve- even in urban areas?! And I would extend this case to all other natural resources that the slum dwellers are dependent on – slums around Mithi in Mumbai, Slums about Boriatalab in Raipur – Can’t we develop a model of community managed natural resources in our urban areas… The answer might not necessarily be just rehabilitation of this poverty stricken from their habitat..
At policy level a series of new programs in India for community natural resource management (CNRM) are initiated – decentralizing control over local resources of water, forests, and inland fishing from government departments to end-users such as farmers, forest dwellers, and fishers.
Despite the government’s “inclusive growth” policy and hope that the program will improve the lives of women, scheduled castes and tribes, minorities, tenants, the landless, and land-poor, only rarely do the poor or marginalized have any real impact on resource management.
The Bani, a sacred grove spread over 200 hectares (ha), has been treasured by and cared for centuries by the residents of three villages—Mangar, Bandhwari and Baliawas—in memory of Gudriya Baba, a saint, who they believe attained moksha (salvation) in the Bani. Gudariya Baba’s shrine inside the Bani is a constant reminder to the villagers of the saint’s wrath if they harm the grove
Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan