Illegal mining in the Aravalli Hills has destroyed hillocks, brought prosperity to locals and depleted the groundwater table
Ilyas Khan, 50, of Banban village in the Tijara block of Rajasthan’s Alwar is a worried man. He was one among thousands of villagers, who mined the nearby hills to eke out a living and prospered. But the sudden prosperity has come at a cost: there is a severe depletion of the groundwater table in the region.
“A decade ago, we used to get groundwater at a depth of 10-15 metres. These days, we have to bore up to 60 metres to get water for drinking and irrigation,” says Khan.
A study of Alwar’s groundwater by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) in 2010 also reveals that in a major part of the district, the depth of water varies from 10 to 40 metres below ground level. All blocks of district are in the “Over Exploited” zone.
Banban residents used to earn Rs 500 per day while working at mining sites for four years between 2008 to 2012. The whole village made a fortune. Every house is now cemented and multi-storey.
“Whatever we earned in those days, we are now spending on borewells to irrigate our one-hectare (ha) field,” says Dini Bi, Khan’s wife.
The CGWB study also analysed long term, pre-monsoon water level data (2002-2011) to conclude that the declining rate of groundwater is 25 cm per year. In some other blocks of Alwar such as Neemrana, the trend of decline is up to 50 per cent.
The extent of illegal mining is so severe that hillocks situated in the Godhan, Khizrpur, Khori Ksalan, Mayapur, Milakpur Turk and Bhatkol forest blocks have almost vanished.
In their place, about 100-200 deep craters, equal to the size of 2 to 3 football fields, have been created at many places such as Chuhadput, Kulavat, Indaur, Kahrani, Khori Kalan and Baloj.
Most of the hilly areas in the Kishangarh and Tijara tehsils of Alwar district are classified as “forest areas” and almost all the forest blocks in these two tehsils are severely affected by the illegal activities being carried out by a mining and stone-crusher mafia operating from Haryana. There are more than 500 stone-crusher units situated in the Pali zone that receive 800-1000 dumpers daily from the border districts of Rajasthan.
The Aravalli range, which is spread across four states, has a length of 692 km. Nearly 80 per cent of the range is in Rajasthan itself.
In 2002, the Supreme Court banned mining in the Rajasthan Aravallis. The Court asked the Rajasthan government to get Environment Clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change to lease out land for mining.
But the state government has ignored the Court’s rulings. The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), in its 2018 report, says that ‘unabated mining caused the disappearance of 31 hills in Alwar’.
Taking advantage of old rules regarding ‘renewal of mining leases’, almost all the lease holders have been carrying on mining operations uninterruptedly under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Rules, 1960. A large number of renewal applications have been pending for a long time. In many cases, for several years.
How 31 hills disappeared in Alwar
The Rajasthan government has defined ‘hills’ as those mounds that are 100 metres above ground level. Those slopes that are below 100 metres from the ground are not to be treated as hills.
According to the CEC report, there are 261 mining leases in the Aravalli hill range in Rajasthan. Some of them were renewed after the Supreme Court order.
The Court asked the Forest Survey of India (FSI) to conduct satellite imagery of the of entire hill range in co-ordination with the CEC and the state government.
After reviewing scientific literature and having had in-house consultation with the CEC, FSI used technology to precisely describe the boundaries of the Aravali hills in Rajasthan. After analysing spatial data, it found that terrain with a slope of 3 degrees or more is part of the Aravalli hill ranges and not flat land.
The minimum elevation of districts falling in the range is 115 metres from mean sea level (MSL).
The FSI took 3 degrees as the threshold for purpose of delineation of hills in areas above MSL.
Using this criteria and other scientific assumptions, the FSI prepared the contour, relief and slope maps, as well as the map showing the boundaries of the Aravallis in Alwar district.
The team had taken only a 5 per cent sample of the total 2,269 hills/hillocks of Alwar district, identified from Survey of India maps. They also visited the sites to verify and validate their methodology.
The team found that 25 per cent out the total selected samples of hills had vanished. That is, out of 128 samples, as many as 31 hills have vanished from the time of preparation of the Survey of India topographic sheets, work on which was undertaken in the year 1967-68.
Mining outside designated areas
According to the CEC report, the FSI found illegal mining activities being carried out outside designated areas. In its report, the FSI pointed out 10,364 ha of such areas in its 1,404 maps of 15 Rajasthan districts.
A total of 5,205 ha of land has been identified as “outside/neighbourhood of designated mining lease area” and another 5,109 ha identified as “seen away from existing mining lease”. All these observations were based on satellite data of 2008-10.
The changes in land use in mining areas after 2010 are not mapped.
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