Save Aravallis, save north India, plead environmentalists

January 24th, 2009 - 11:57 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) North India will become a big desert if the Aravalli range - one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world - is not protected, say environmentalists, hailing a recent recommendation by a Supreme Court committee in this regard and hoping that court orders would be implemented this time.The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) recommended last week that barring specific locations, mining be banned altogether in the hill range that stretches from Gujarat to Delhi.

It also recommended that illegal buildings in protected areas of the range, just south of the national capital, be demolished. Many earlier bans on illegal mining and construction in the Aravalli hills have been flouted.

The 800-km-long range stretches from Himmatnagar in Gujarat to Delhi.

For years, the rich mineral reserves and strong-layered stones of the range have tempted miners and builders, to the point where the very hills have been demolished in many places, most noticeably in parts of Haryana just south of the national capital and also around Rajasthan capital Jaipur.

In its report last week, the CEC, set up to look into environmentally sensitive matters, has also sought demolition of certain colonies, farmhouses, banquet halls and other buildings in Faridabad district of Haryana, south of Delhi.

These buildings are in areas such as Kant Enclave, Karmyogi Shelter Private Limited and Lake Wood View, situated along the Delhi-Faridabad road via Surajkund.

The CEC report has also recommended closing down or revoking all mining leases.

The report came on a Supreme Court direction. It had asked the CEC to furnish land-use maps and macro-plans in parts of the Aravalli range areas in Haryana, after it was pointed out that the court’s previous orders were being flouted.

The CEC is now awaiting the apex court’s nod to undertake demolition of the buildings it has identified as illegal. It has asked for time-bound demolition and a plan from the Haryana government for rehabilitation of the ecology of these areas.

Expecting the Supreme Court to concur with the CEC recommendations and hoping that the apex court’s orders would be implemented this time, environmentalist and expert in desert sciences Anupam Mishra said: “These hills are nine times the geological age of the Himalayas - and unlike the Himalayas they are very stable and strong.

“The Aravallis control everything, rain, drought and flood, on both sides, the desert and the fertile plains,” Mishra told IANS. Crucially, they block the sands of the Thar desert from blowing into the fertile plains of north India.

“But they are not very high, so people have exploited them for mining and construction. The range is considered raw material but it is actually a crucial lifeline,” Mishra said.

In Jaipur, the hills have been flattened to such an extent that one can hardly realise that the city is situated in the heart of the Aravalli range.

“There are gaps in the range at Nimi, near Jaipur, that have developed over the last 50-100 years where the desert air moves unchecked,” Mishra said. “The desert is in a sense spilling over. We will miss the Aravallis only when north India becomes a big desert.”

Another environmentalist, Ahmedabad-based Farhad Contractor, said on phone: “The hills have been blasted and drained of their strength with all the mining. And the implementation of the laws has been pathetic. It is the government that allowed all this. If the Supreme Court doesn’t step in, I fear that will be the case this time as well.”

Mishra feared one isolated Supreme Court (SC) order would not be enough to halt the destruction. “Just because this time the SC deems it illegal to mine or construct in the area, it’s not necessary that’s the final word.

“Before the next elections the mining could be regularised. We need political will and coordinated efforts from the legislature and judiciary, not isolated decisions,” he said.

Today, high-rise residential buildings, educational and religious institutions, offices and factories stand along the Delhi-Faridabad road via Surajkund. Property developers, expectedly worried by the CEC report, ask why the Haryana government allowed them to build in the area in the first place.

“This was a good market for us,” said Suren Goel, consultant and former head of sales for a property development firm. “Properties have been developed in the area for more than a decade. The dealers get proper licences from the Haryana government. A decision to demolish all this now would be very sad. Why were we not stopped then?”

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