How do you restore 448 sq km of land ravaged by careless mining to something worthy of India’s national capital region?
As officials ponder that question after the Supreme Court on Friday banned mining in the Aravali Hills around Delhi, they have to look no further than the former mines of Asola-Bhatti: Once a series of ugly brown gashes, now a sylvan sprawl in south Delhi.
It's taken just 10 years to restore these mines, a 30-minute drive from Faridabad, Gurga areas where the Supreme Court order is applicable.
Experts said “precise ecological interventions” could restore the Aravali Hill Range, a green corridor till 1980s, and a natural filter for hot winds blowing in from Rajasthan. “If Aravali gets (back) its glory it would have a definite impact on lowering of Delhi’s average temperature,” said G B Pant, former director of Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
And if Delhi really gets creative, the Aravalis could become a nature reserve, complete with hiking paths and eco trails.
How can the Aravalis get their green back?
It doesn't need lots of money. But it does need a dedicated team of scientists and lots of local support.“At a cost of Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 per acre, the Aravali hills can look like they did 20-30 years,” said C.R. Babu, Professor Emeritus at Delhi University's School for Environment Studies.
Babu has given new ecological life to several degraded mines in India, including the Mussoorie (limestone) mines in Uttarkhand, which the Supreme Court in the early 1980s had cited in invoking Article 21 of the Constitution (the right to life), as it did in the Aravali case on Friday.
Barren to bountiful
For more than 150 years, Asola-Bhatti mines were Delhi’s main source of morrum, a red sand popularly known as Badarpur and used in construction, till the ban on digging in the late 1990s. It now comes from Aravali in Haryana.
It took scientists from DU more than a year to rejuvenate the soil, using legumes, plants that trap atmospheric nitrogen dioxide and convert it to nitrogen. It is this nitrogen that lets grass grow.
As the soil quality improved, native species returned—1,200 plant species, more than 110 species of birds and 72 species of butterflies.
Only, the Asola-Bhatti is two acres: the job across the degraded Aravalis is huge at 448 sq km, about the third the area of Delhi.“Experience from ecological restoration of limestone mines in Uttarakhand has shown there are proven scientific techniques to ensure return of biodioversity in huge tracts of barren land,” said Fayaz Khudsar, an environmentalist who has worked in the degraded Chambal Hills.
“It’s more than just planting trees. One has to understand local ecological needs and act accordingly,” said Babu. He's credited with developing two bio-diversity parks in Delhi—at Burari and Vasant Kunj. If only he can rework his magic.