The Supreme Court has done well to impose a blanket ban on all mining activities in the ecologically fragile Aravali hills, spanning the Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat districts of Haryana. Spread over 448 square km, about a third the size of Delhi, this is one of the world’s oldest hill ranges (unlike the relatively young and still evolving Himalayas) and is believed to serve as a natural barrier to check the creep of the adjoining great Thar desert into the fertile agricultural belt in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. The indiscriminate and ecologically ruinous mining of this range, without any post-exploitation rehabilitation and restoration work, has over the past several decades almost totally devastated this range. Not only has it denuded the hills of their green cover, rendering the bare landscape vulnerable to further erosion, it has also resulted in a massive drop in the ground water table which has caused an acute shortage of drinking water in the thickly populated city of Delhi. What is equally disquieting is that the sprawling Badkal Lake and other natural water bodies of this region, which attracted tourists in large numbers, have virtually dried up.
Under these circumstances, the special forest bench of the apex court has been moved to invoke the principle of sustainable development, under Article 21 of the Constitution which deals with the right to life, to put an end to this remorseless devastation. This decree may appear harsh and sweeping, especially to those wanting mined material like the Badarpur sand that is used in construction, but nothing short of a total prohibition of mining activity will work in a situation where miners as well as the state government are equally guilty of flouting all the established norms of ecologically sustainable mining. In fact, this matter had gone before the Supreme Court earlier also, when the court had allowed limited mining on the basis of sustainable principles. But, as pointed out by the court now, none of the statutory requirements had been complied with by the mining lease holders. They do not even fill up abandoned mine pits, leave alone attempt any reforestation and other necessary rehabilitation action. The decree is timely also because the Haryana government was reportedly planning to auction mines in the near-by Khori and Sirohi areas of the Faridabad district as well.
Now that the ban on mining is in place, the next logical step would be to take measures to undo, even if partially, the damage done to the Aravalis’ geology and ecology. The Supreme Court itself has paved the way for this by directing that the Haryana government and the Union forest ministry come up with an action plan for the restoration of the Aravalis, which would then have to be approved by the Court’s central empowered committee on environment. It may be recalled that the Mussoorie hills in Uttarakhand and the Asola-Bhatti mining belt in South Delhi had in the past been subjected to a similar onslaught by miners; these areas were subsequently restored to good health through well-conceived retrieval measures. It can, therefore, be hoped that these examples are replicated in the Aravali hills, through judicious action by the state government and the ministry of environment and forests.