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The village abounds with folklores of Gudariya Baba’s powers; he is supposed to be keeping a watchful eye over the grow even now. Once a few Rabaris from Rajasthan took their camels inside the Bani to graze. The animals started lopping dhau branches. Soon the camels started dying. Since then, no Rabari has taken his animals into the Bani for grazing. People who took wood from the Bani for building a house, or for fuel paid a price. Their houses were burnt, say village residentsPhotograph by: Aditya Batra Read also: Unhappy Bani
In July this year, the Haryana government released a master plan to develop 10,484 ha area around 23 villages in Faridabad, including Mangar. The plan proposes development activities like construction of residential and industrial colonies, farm houses, warehouses, communication towers, hotels, resorts, banquet halls, amusement parks, railway stations, airports and non-polluting rural and small scale industries on hills and plains in this region. Even mining and extraction operations, including lime and brick kilns, stone quarries and crushing are sought to be allowed Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan Read also: Unhappy Bani
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. As one passes through a part of the Aravalli hills, the straggly vilayati keekars (Prosopis juliflora) give no indication of what lies nestled in the valley ahead Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan Read also: Unhappy Bani
The villagers fear the plan, if approved, will open floodgates for real estate and harm the Bani. Bharatraj Harsana regrets that in 1970s when the government allowed privatisation of the village commons, the villagers 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 Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan Read also: Unhappy Bani
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 Read also: Unhappy Bani
The village residents’ fear stems from the fact that the Bani has had no legal protection so far. The Mangar draft development plan says no construction will be permitted on the land falling under the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA), 1900, and in the area under plantations in the Aravallis protected by the Supreme Court’s direction. The Bani and surrounding hills fall under neither Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan Read also: Unhappy Bani
What sets the Bani apart from the surrounding vegetation is that 95 per cent of it comprises a slow growing tree called Dhau (Anogeissus pendula). The tree has a unique feature. If it is nibbled by cattle, it spreads out on the ground or over rocks like thick prostrate undergrowth. If left undisturbed, it grows into a middle-sized tree. The 13-meter-tall dhaus in Mangar Bani testify to the forest’s antiquity, points out Pradip Krishen, the author of Trees of Delhi Photograph by: Aditya Batra Read also: Unhappy Bani
The 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 Photograph by: Vaibhav Raghunandan Read also: Unhappy Bani
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