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Locals must be involved Eventful journey to protect the Aravallis

The Aravalli mountain Range, extending for about 670 kms from Delhi to Ahmedabad, with most of its area in Rajasthan and Haryana, is one of the oldest geological formations in the world. Yet it has taken only a few decades to damage it extensively, the single factor most responsible being indiscriminate mining and quarrying.


The Aravalli mountain Range, extending for about 670 kms from Delhi to Ahmedabad, with most of its area in Rajasthan and Haryana, is one of the oldest geological formations in the world. Yet it has taken only a few decades to damage it extensively, the single factor most responsible being indiscriminate mining and quarrying, mostly to meet the ever-rising demand for construction stone and related materials. This has flattened several mountains that stood firmly for thousands of years and prevented the spread of the western desert.

There is evidently a strong case for protecting the Aravalli mountain range from indiscriminate mining and deforestation. Some time back this writer studied the impact of stone mining in several villages of Neem Ka Thana area in Sikar district. What villagers told me was a shocking story of terrible ruin of farming, pastures and water sources. A river named Kasavati had almost vanished.

Blasting led to cracks in houses and stones being hurled dangerously far and wide. Not just workers but even several villagers suffered from silicosis and other dust-related diseases. An activist who opposed all this, Pradeep Sharma from a family of freedom fighters, had been murdered. The recent surge in the debate relating to Aravalli mining is also related to a murder – Deputy Superintendent of Police Surendra Singh being mowed down by a stone dumper just a few weeks before he was due for retirement in Nuh district (Haryana).

The fact that those indulging in illegal mining in these badlands do not hesitate to attack even police officials – they have done this before too – speaks volumes of their power and linkages at higher levels. The police on their part say that they have registered a large number of cases of illegal mining and initiated action. The judiciary has also been quite active and several strong orders over the recent years testify to its efforts to check illegal mining and encroachments to protect the Aravallis.

Several citizen groups, environmental and wildlife groups too have been active on this front. Despite all this, unfortunately, ecological havoc in the Aravallis has continued. In addition, we must look at some other factors too. Workers have been frequently employed in quarries, mines and stone crushers in very exploitative and unhealthy conditions.

Organizations like the Delhi based Bonded Labor Liberation Front and its Alwar Branch have been involved in rescuing several workers who were toiling in conditions of bondage. Hence apart from environmental issues, justice-based issues should also be considered.

This was highlighted last year when in the middle of adverse weather and pandemic related difficulties, over 10,000 houses were demolished in Khori, district Faridabad, causing immense distress to working class people, in the name of removing encroachments. However, a different approach could have been to make the working-class communities responsible for greening some of the surrounding area, probably also making them some wage payment also for this from the afforestation budget, in the process contributing to protection of environment as well as to protecting the shelters and livelihoods of weaker sections.

No one can green the area as well as the people living right there, particularly women. Similarly, when parks and sanctuaries have been created in the Aravalli region, this has often involved the displacement of people (particularly tribal communities) or substantial erosion of their livelihood prospects. Why not instead provide them more livelihoods in the protection of wildlife and its habitats? In areas that have been devastated by mining and then abandoned, why not launch big ecology rehabilitation drives that can provide satisfactory livelihoods to people? There are several badly degraded forests in the region.

Communities from tribal groups and various weaker sections can be involved in regeneration of these forests, initially paying them for this work and later – when mixed indigenous specie forests, which resemble natural forests of the region, have grown – they can be given rights over the sustainably harvested minor produce of these forests, while at the same time giving them responsibility for protecting them.

Another consideration is that of making available construction material on a sustainable basis. While areas which have suffered heavy ecological damaged caused by overexploitation in the past deserve to be completely rested from mining at least for some years and need ecology-rehabilitation schemes as well, in other areas systems should be created for sustainable practices of obtaining limited quantities of stones or other minerals.

There may be excessive demands in market for construction materials, but in various parts of these hill ranges the supply should not exceed what is sustainable, as decided in close consultation with local people. Similarly, the technology used should be the least disruptive for ecology, even if is slower or more labour-intensive.

In fact, labour-intensive methods should be preferred in the interests of more employment, as well as going slow on extraction. Clearly such choices can be made only in conditions of real decentralization, with much more decision-making power vesting with the gram panchayats and gram sabhas, which can be given access to expert advice on technology, environment, and related issues.

What is more, a certain share of the earnings should be kept aside for ecological rehabilitation. Such mining should be accompanied by well thought out efforts to increase greenery, including soil and water conservation and stabilization works. In this way at least a part of the need for construction materials can be met, keeping away the illegal and indiscriminate, get-rich-quick practices used by mining mafias. In this fashion, the criminalisation of vast areas associated with the operations of these mining mafias an also be avoided.

In addition, by following labour-intensive technology, more sustainable livelihoods can be generated. Harm to agriculture, animal husbandry and water sources by mining, quarrying and stone crushers can also be minimized. Several isolated efforts to avoid the undesirable impacts of indiscriminate mining have not been successful but planning with a wider horizon will hopefully give better results