Deep digging in the mountain range for minerals has ruptured aquifers that now water mining pits
The familiar lakes in the Aravalli hills skirting south Delhi may be disappearing, but some new water bodies are popping up in the region that has been ravaged by mining in recent years. Take a walk down the unpaved path leading away from the road opposite Manav Rachna International University in sector 43 of Faridabad township on Delhi-Haryana border. The path winds through a kikar (Prosopis juliflora) forest, and one soon sights a large expanse of water, 500 metres end to end. The water turns from blue to green as the depth increases.
Environmental activists have filed public interest petitions to curb mining in the Aravallis; the first petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 1985. Major judgements were pronounced in 1992, May 2002, December 2002 and 2009. There have been a number of flip flops on whether mining should be allowed in the Aravallis. In 1992, the Supreme Court ordered that in future the Centre would approve all mining and industrial activity in the region. A decade later, the Supreme Court banned all mining activities, including pumping of water in an area up to 5 km from the Delhi-Haryana border on the Haryana side of the Ridge (as the Aravallis are called). However, later the same year, the Court eased mining in the Aravallis that fall in Rajasthan.
To avoid the Supreme Court’s ban, the Rajasthan State Mining and Geology Department redefined a hill. As per their definition, any raised area less than 100 metre cannot be categorised as hill. Illegal mining continued in the years to follow. In 2009, the Supreme Court banned mining throughout the Aravallis again. This was done due to continuous reported violations of explicit conditions, including the promise that mine owners would ensure no ground water would be discharged outside the lease area premise and that measures for rainwater harvesting would be in place. It is no state secret that illegal mining continues.
None of the lease agreements have been cancelled thus far; only mining is banned. The government offered refunds but the mine owners refused to accept, mining being much more lucrative. “The Haryana government has submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court to allow mining in 600 ha of the Aravallis, with the condition that the miners take rehabilitation measures,” says Bhupinder Singh, area in-charge with the Department of Mining. This land will include part of the Aravallis not included in forestland. The case is yet to be disposed of.
No tourism please
These stray holes in the ground, now filled with water, are a reminder of the mining history of the region. They serve to beautify the landscape, but no more than that. They remain untouched as the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has no plans for the protection and utilization of the water bodies says Dinesh Tiwari, scientist with CGWB in Chandigarh. CGWB has not tested the water. However, the water is drinkable as no sewage or effluents are entering into these pits, says Tiwari. The forest department, too, has no plans to develop or restore the area. There should be some plan to rehabilitate damaged parts of Aravalli, admits B S Yadav, divisional forest officer for Faridabad. However, Yadav stressed that these water bodies, no matter how beautiful, should not be developed as tourist spots as this will further disturb the surrounding environment of Aravalli. These mountains should be protected only for conservation of forests and soil, says Yadav. Developing these waterbodies into some form of tourist facility is tricky. As per the Supreme Court, Aravallis are categorised as forestland, as declared on December 12, 1996. No other activity apart from forestry is permitted.
The construction material has to be sourced from somewhere. If not from the Aravallis, it will come from someplace else. Some other mountain will be flattened. “It is an irrational decision of the court to ban mining; there is no need to ban mining completely as these hills are rich in many useful minerals. What we need is more environmentally sustainable and scientific mining. The government allots mining areas without comprehensive research. There is no aquifer mapping. There are no environmental impact assessments,” says Pant. Others remain skeptical. “There is no effective mechanism in place to ensure the compliance of such conditions by the mine owners as this happened previously too,” says Chetan Agarwal, consultant with Winrock, a Delhi based non-profit. Meanwhile, rampant mining continues.
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