The Delhi government has been promising a Bio Diversity Park at Neela Hauz near Sanjay Van. They would do well to visit the Gurgaon Bio Diversity Park and learn a few lessons

In this column last year I had written about ‘The last forest standing’ (11.08.2012). The piece was on the unique Mangar Bani forest fighting a battle of survival against the onslaught of the rapacious builder-leader-developer lobby. A dedicated band of environmentalists supported by the residents of neighbouring villages is involved in the struggle and just about managing to keep the excavators and earth movers at bay.

I came to know of Mangar Bani through the writings of environmentalist and author Pradip Krishen and visited the forest that would be at its most beautiful right now, with the help of Malvika Kaul, herself a keen environmentalist. It was through her that I met Vijay Dhasmana who showed us around. Vijay had been working on the issue of wildlife protection for years and made a move to protect natural habitats through his interactions with Pradip Krishen. Vijay got involved in the movement to protect Mangar Bani and has spent a lot of his time over the last six or seven years studying the plants and working with the dedicated band of people trying to save the forest.

I am recalling all this because just a fortnight ago I got a call from Vijay, inviting me to visit the Gurgaon Bio Diversity Park. I reached there on August 10, exactly one year to the day when I had written about Mangar Bani. We were again talking of reviving and saving a forest, standing merely a few kilometres away from Mangar Bani.

The best method of reaching the Bio Diversity Park from Delhi is to cross the Ghitorni Metro Station and take the first U-turn to your right. The turn is just a few metres short of the right turn into DLF Phase III. You will see a ‘No Parking’ sign to your left, drive towards and beyond the sign, you will come across a large sloping space covered by rough gravel -- this is where visitors to the Bio Diversity Park are required to leave their vehicles. The gravel is embedded within a plastic mesh and the parking lot doubles up as a fairly large rain water harvesting pit. The same kind of surface will greet you at the Amphitheatre.

Spread across more than 400 acres of land, that was till as late as 2008 the site for illegal mining and rock crushing, are a range of creative interventions, all of them part of an eco-friendly plan. Two of the largest mining pits have been turned into water bodies; a shallow depression is fast turning into a small grassland and has begun attracting a large variety of birds. Seeds of more than 200 species of trees, shrubs, bushes and climbers, all native to the Arravalis, have been gathered not only from Delhi but also from Haryana and Rajasthan. Teams have searched through crags and crannies and have trained and enthused others to search, collect, preserve and send seeds. Two nurseries have been set up and they are producing thousands of saplings of trees that belong to this natural habitat.

Last year activists of IAMGURGAON mobilised corporate houses to sponsor plantation on a large scale. More than 32,000, saplings were planted by those working with these corporate entities and by hundreds of school children mobilised by IAMGURGAON. The saplings represented more than 50 species of trees and plants that are native to the Arravalis but had almost disappeared from this area. Simultaneously, with the planting of this large number of species, the invasive Juliflora Prosopis is being gradually rooted out, very soon at least one part of the Arravalis will return to a state that was the natural state of the Arravalis just about a hundred years ago.

All it has taken is the determination of a handful of young people who took it upon themselves to do something about improving the standards of cleanliness and hygiene in their neighbourhood. Their engagement expanded to include issues of environment and very rapidly the initiative taken by Latika, a former banker, Swanzal an architect and Ambika Agarwal grew into IAMGURGAON and expanded from their immediate neighbourhood to embrace all of Gurgaon, drawing in a large number of corporate houses, who are funding and supporting the initiative in diverse ways.

All this would not have happened without the active participation of several succeeding commissioners of Gurgaon Corporation who facilitated the granting of all kinds of permissions. The Gurgaon Bio Diversity Park, inaugurated in 2009, is a joint venture of Gurgaon Municipal Corporation and IAMGURGAON.

IAMGURGAON approached Pradip Krishen for help in reviving the Bio Diversity of this badly damaged region and he suggested that they contact Vijay Dhasmana. Vijay began consulting with the project in 2011 and today you can’t pull him out of the place.

Of the thousands of saplings that have been planted he knows the location of each of them and 75 per cent have survived. This monsoon another 12000 would be planted. Another five years and the natural habitat would return to what the Arravali should be like.

The Delhi government has been promising a Bio Diversity Park at Neela Hauz near Sanjay Van at Vasant Kunj - Kishangarh. They would do well to visit the Gurgaon Bio Diversity Park and to learn a few lessons from IAMGURGAON, Gurgaon Municipal Corporation and from Vijay Dhasmana. Believe me they have a lot to learn from them.