Around two years after the Haryana Assembly passed the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Bill, 2019, amid opposition by the environmentalists and the Gurugram residents, the State government’s recent move to seek permission from the Supreme Court to begin mining in the Aravalis in Gurugram, Faridabad and Nuh is being viewed as another threat to one of the oldest mountain ranges with adverse impacts to the environment in the region.
Strongly opposed to legalising mining in the Aravalis in the National Capital Region, the environmentalists argue that this could cause colossal damage to the environment, especially when the region is already grappling with poor air quality and fast depleting groundwater level.
Worst air quality
Faridabad has the worst air quality in Haryana and figures among the most polluted cities in the world. Gurugram, too, had topped the list of most polluted cities in the world in 2018. It is also argued that Gurugram and Faridabad have a high population density, but low per capita forest cover.
“With the ban on mining in Gurugram and Faridabad, there has been a significant improvement in the forest cover. The wildlife surveys show that Gurugram and Faridabad hills act as a significant wildlife habitat and corridor, especially for the leopards. There is also movement from and into the Asola wildlife sanctuary. The resumption of mining here will be disastrous for the wildlife, air quality and health of the residents,” said an environment analyst not willing to be named.
He added that mining should be confined to isolated hillocks in distant areas with minimal impact on wildlife corridors and air quality. “Mining should not be done in NCR districts adjacent to Delhi which are important wildlife habitats and corridors, have poor air quality and high population,” the analyst said. He also questioned the rationale behind opening new mines when mining was already booming in Haryana.
As per the Economic Survey of Haryana 2020-21, the collection from mining for 2020-21 till January is ₹770.00 crore, the highest since 2005-06.
Besides, as many as 58 mines of the total 119 in the State have already been allocated. More than 26,000 cases of illegal mining, including 1,358 till September 2020 for the current financial year have been reported.
Mining is banned in Gurugram and adjoining districts for more than a decade now as per the Supreme Court orders.
R.P. Balwan, former conservator of forests, said that mining, when earlier allowed, was carried out in a haphazard manner without adhering to the norms causing huge damage to the environment and the wildlife. “Mining should not be allowed in thick forest areas such as Mangar. The need for construction material can also be met by mining at isolated hills causing minimum damage to environment to ensure sustainable development,” said Mr. Balwan.
In an email campaign to the Chief Justice of India, the residents have been demanding that no mining and real estate be allowed in the Aravalis. Instead, the government should come up with a three-year road map to take the legal native forest cover in the State to 20% as per the Haryana Forest Department policy target and an all-India average.
The other demands include demolition of illegal construction in Aravalis, planting of saplings, notify 50,000 acre of Aravalis as deemed forest and to retain all Aravalis in south Haryana as natural conservation zone.
The residents, in the email, argued that destruction of the Aravalis would worsen the NCR air pollution situation and the mountain range is the only natural barrier against desertification. The Aravalis with their natural cracks and fissures have the potential to accommodate two million litres of water per hectare in the ground every year. Besides, the mountain range is a biodiversity hotspot with 400-odd species of trees, shrubs and herbs; 200-odd native and migratory bird species;100-odd butterfly species; 20-odd reptile species and 20-odd mammal species, including leopards, says the email.
Anil Kumar, Gurugram mining officer, said that mining in this region would not just help meet the demand for construction material but also generate employment. He argued that mining was also allowed in the Aravalis in neighbouring Rajasthan. “Mining will be done in areas with minimum harm to the environment. A survey has also been done in this connection to identify the possible areas for mining. Though there are few areas available for mining in Gurugram, there is a large scope for mining in neighbouring Nuh,” said Mr. Kumar.