Already vulnerable gaps in the hills may no longer be able to protect north India from the Thar
The Haryana Legislative Assembly on February 27, 2019 amended the Punjab Land Preservation Act (PLPA) to exclude areas under the master plans of cities such as Gurugra, Faridabad, Nuh, Mahendragarh and Rewari from its ambit.
This opens up almost 25,000 hectares of forest areas in the Aravalli hills for construction and mining activities. It also legitimises illegal construction and mining already underway in these areas.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar have defended the Bill on grounds of livelihood of locals while the Opposition and environmentalists called it a disaster.
The conservation and revival of the Aravalli’s remaining forested areas is the last chance to prevent Delhi and its neighbourhood from turning into a desert, scientists and activists have contended.
The Aravalli range, one of Earth’s oldest mountain ranges, spans 692 kilometres from Gujarat into Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. It formed around two billion years ago, when the tectonic Indian Plate went up against the Eurasian Plate.
The hills checked the spread of the Thar Desert towards eastern Rajasthan, the Indo-Gangetic Plains, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, according to a Wildlife Institute of India (WII) study published May 2017.
There are twelve identified gaps in the Aravallis through which the desert could have spread. These once teemed with forests and wildlife, not allowing the desert to pass through.
Now the hills and these gaps are no longer able to shield against desertification because their forest cover is the most degraded in India, the study stated.
One symptom of such extended desertification is the occurrence of more dust and intensification of dust storms, which travel east from the Thar in spring and summer.
Only last year north India — especially UP and Rajasthan — was ravaged by a series of unusual dust and thunderstorms, sometimes accompanied by hailstorms, in March, April and May.
The timing of the storms, which killed more than 500, was not unusual; but their frequency and intensity were. Intense heating of the land along with changes in wind patterns were responsible for the devastation.
“Climatologically, these storms were anything but typical. Initial analyses have revealed several reasons for the stormy weather, including the activity of the Western Disturbances (WDs), the low pressure over the Indo-Gangetic plains and the intense heating in west and northwest India,” said M Mohapatra, director-general of Meteorology at National Weather Forecasting Centre, India Meteorological Department (IMD), New Delhi.
If the Aravallis are not restored, such storms will be more intense in the future and carry the dread of the desert with them, found a Down to Earth analysis.
The Aravallis have been degraded by illegal mining, unbridled construction, over-grazing by livestock and the plantation of non-adaptable species of trees and plants, according to research by scientists of Career Point University, Hamirpur in July 2017.
Also , rampant mining is creating new gaps in the region. The Supreme Court of India pulled up the Rajasthan government in October 2018 over 31 missing hills and hillocks in the Aravallis, according to media reports. The court also linked the vanishing hills to increasing pollution in Delhi.
With Haryana’s amendment, the gaps along with the hills will be plundered by mining and real-estate companies. They might provide livelihood to some locals, but at the cost of an increased risk of desertification and intense dust storms in the region.
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