After nearly seven years of debate, the Mangar Bani forest area of Faridabad has finally got the protection it rightly deserves. The National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) on Tuesday approved a buffer zone of 500 metres around the sacred grove against the earlier proposed restriction of just 60 metres. Environmentalists called it “a major decision towards preserving the last virgin forest”, but at the same time remained wary of the concept of “urbanisable areas” which they fear is “blanket exclusion” for defining Natural Conservation Zones (NCZs). Sources said the decision in the meeting was solely taken by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar despite the NCRPB reminding him that there was no legal binding on his government to turn down the 60 metre buffer zone proposal. Apparently, Mr Khattar decided to stick to the 500 metre “No Construction Zone” after he did a recce of the entire Aravali area on Sunday.
“Just ahead of the NCRPB meeting, the Haryana CM did a three-hour long aerial inspection in his chopper. After looking at the dense green cover from Mangar Bani to the Western Ridge of the Aravalis, he acknowledged the dense forests in the entire stretch. Strangely, others in the meeting who earlier were against the 60 metre demarcation, also asked the Minister for a second thought,” said a member who was present in 35th NCRPB meeting held at Vigyan Bhawan on Tuesday.
The forest area in the Aravalis along the Gurgaon-Faridabad Highway, the Mangar Bani has been a subject of debate since 2002 when mining was banned by the Supreme Court. “We are grateful to the CM for restoring the buffer for Mangar Bani to 500 metres. But this is just the first step, NCZs have to be identified at the earliest,” said Dr Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst. According to Vivek Kamboj, founder of Haryali NGO, the next focus should be to re-examine the Haryana Sub Regional Plan. “The plan has a line which poses a major veiled threat to the Aravalis. It states that the Aravalis are part of the NCZ except in the urbanisable area. It is nothing but a blanket exclusion,” he said.
The proposal to earmark only 60m around Mangar Bani as buffer zone was first floated by the then Bhupinder Singh Hooda government.