Spread across four states, the 692-km-long Aravalli range is key in preventing the adjoining desert from eating into inhabited areas near the mountains. However, illegal miners, real estate sharks and encroachers are ravaging the range and none of the state governments have stepped in to stop the destruction.
The tall and short peaks and the ridges of the Aravallis rise up to a maximum of 5,650 feet, seemingly kissing the clouds as they run through the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. The Supreme Court ordered the government of Rajasthan to stop illegal mining activity in a very sensitive area of 115.35 hectares of the Aravalli range that had a fragile ecosystem in late October. The court gave the state 48 hours to ensure this.
Judges expressed shock when a court-appointed Central Empowerment Committee told them that 31 hill ranges of the Aravallis in Rajasthan had vanished due to illegal quarrying.
The committee said that illegal mining was prevalent in as many as 15 districts of Rajasthan with the worst affected areas being Alwar, Dungarpur and Sikar. When it informed the bench that the state was earning Rs 50 billion annually as royalty from mining companies, the bench remarked that that money would well be used to look after the health of people in Delhi as pollution was killing people.
Without mincing words, the court said that the state had allowed mining operators to illegally mine the hills at the cost of nature. “For the sake of a few mining companies, you are putting the life of lakhs of people in danger,”
The Aravallis date back to millions of years when a pre-Indian sub-continent collided with the mainland Eurasian Plate. Carbon dating has shown that copper and other metals mined in the ranges date back to at least 5th century BC.
Fourteen years ago, in 2004, a Supreme Court order had banned mining in many parts of the hill ranges, but it was blatantly violated by illegal miners with the connivance of the government that turned a blind eye. The systematic plunder of the Aravallis continued despite numerous government reports documenting it. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report earlier this year had highlighted that 98.87 lakh metric tonnes of minerals were excavated illegally in the years between 2011 and 2017.
The ranges are considered to be among the oldest in the world. Decades ago, they were punctuated with lush forests that supported wildlife in a thriving ecosystem. There is documented evidence of leopards, striped hyenas, golden jackals, nilgais, palm civets, wild pigs, rhesus macaque, pea fowls and Indian crested porcupines thriving there. Many of them have vanished. Rivers like Banas, Luni, Sahibi and Sakhi, originated in the Aravallis. The rivers are now dead.
Most of the forest wealth has disappeared. Large denuded stretches eloquently lie there as evidence. Chandra Bhushan, deputy director, Centre for Science and Environment, said, “The preservation of the Aravallis is extremely important as it defines the watershed for the National Capital Region. As it got degraded, we saw water levels fall. If we protect the Aravallis, we will also have less sand storms and dust coming in from the Rajasthan desert as the range will act as a barrier.”