Villagers to miners to rural poor: How mining spelled doom for Aravalli dwellers
Life in the lap of Aravallis used to be simple, says 80-year-old Chandi Pehalwan, a resident of Pali village in Faridabad. “People from villages in Yamuna catchment area would send their cattle here before monsoon and get wheat and jaggery in return,” he recalls.
In the last two decades,however, Pehalwan’s village, like many others in the region, has undergone a sea change. Large tracts of Aravallis, that once provided villagers necessary means of sustenance, now stand barren. Village economies that thrived on exchange of cattle, grains and forest produce have collapsed and the age-old ecological balance of the region stands shaken.
Around 240 villages in the Aravalli range, mainly inhabited by clans of Gujjars, abandoned cattle grazing and agriculture in favour of mining in the 90s. Though the business brought money and prosperity, it was banned by the Supreme Court in 2002 due to its disastrous ecological imprint. Dr Gopal Krishan from National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, said mining caused considerable damage to the ecology of Aravallis as it resulted in heavy deforestation and decline in water quality.
“The built up area increased in the Aravallis. The lakes that were filled with water in about 45 hectares vanished. Agricultural land was diverted to mining and reduced along with vegetation,” said Dr Krishan, who along with Naval Kishore and Deepa Nathalia, conducted a survey in 2015 about the ecological impact of mining. The survey found that the symbiotic relationship of the villagers with the Aravallis was shattered with the advent of mining and the consequent ban on it crushed the villagers.
There are around 90 villages in Gurgaon and Faridabad that are located in core Aravalli hills and another 150 in the foothills and catchment areas. During nearly one-and-a-half decades of mining, villagers turned into transporters, contractors, and labour suppliers. Village economies changed overnight and every family in the core mining area developed a stake in the industry.
Before the onset of mining, around 30% of the population was engaged in animal husbandry, according to the survey in 2015. “During our growing up days I recall people taking cattle daily to the hills. There was plenty of grass, tree leaves, and other forest produce,” said Jitender Bhadana, founder Save Aravallis, an NGO.
The region supplied milk to Faridabad, and even as far as Delhi. The sale of forest produce, comprising Dhak, Ber and Krail, was widely undertaken. Chandi Pehlawan said that everything coming from ‘Pahar’ was once utilized. “All these things have now vanished,” he said.
As their wealth increased with the mining business, villagers scaled-up their lifestyle. “Most of the youth left education for a job or contract in the mining sector. People built swanky houses, bought trucks, took huge loans, every house had a luxury car,” said Gajraj Bhadana, a resident of Pali. Bhadana lost his job after government banned mining and the Haryana forest department took control of the forest land, imposing strict controls on economic activities in the hills.
A survey in 2015 — titled ‘Socio-Economic change impact after the closure of mining activities; A case study of Aravalli Hills of Faridabad District, Haryana’ — revealed that in 2002 almost 35 to 40% people were engaged in mining in core areas. The study was conducted by Dr Gopal Krishan, Deepa Nathalia and Naval Kishore from National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, and Department of Geology, Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Almost 90% village youth did not study beyond Class 10th during this period. Less than 1% youth were found to be graduates in core mining villages, whereas only 5% had cleared Class 12, the survey revealed.
Many villagers had even taken loans to buy dumpers and mining equipment. The loans have now turned a liability as the work has stopped and incomes have dwindled, the survey found.
Post mining era
Ban on mining had a major fall out as incomes dropped and sources of employment dried up.
Families that had gained power and pelf during the mining boom saw a sharp decline in fortunes. “The Mercedes cars are gathering dust and the SUVs are difficult to service, but who will bell the cat and change the mindset,” said Bhadana.
Over 300 youth in Pali and Pakhal villages alone are now struggling to get married as there is no sustainable source of income, says Bhadana. “The boys did not focus on education, their parents never thought that mining could stop one day. The situation is same across the hills,” said Horam Singh Bhadana, a retired school principal, who lives in Pawta.
Landholding, considered a big source of income in Delhi-NCR, also suffered due to mining ban as people had to sell off their land to finance their lifestyle. The 2015 survey revealed that almost 48 per cent villagers had a holding of 2 acres to 5 acres in 2002, which dropped by 30 per cent in 2015.
Less than 18% now earn more than 15,000 per month, a number that was much higher during the mining years, according to the survey. The number of people who owned four wheelers in 2002 also went down in 2015 indicating that the sources of income have largely dried up.
The ban on mining has, however, somewhat stemmed the degradation of Aravallis. Some also claim that a number of health ailments — such hearing loss, lung diseases, respiratory issues, asthma, tuberculosis, and skin allergies — have gone down. But water pollution caused by mining has ensured that water borne diseases like malaria, cholera, bone problems and gastric problems continue. “There has been considerable increase in diseases caused by water pollution. Air pollution also continues due to operation of crushing zone,” said Horam Singh Bhadana.
The solution to these problems, locals say, is in not treating the ‘Pahar’ as source of endless income. “This hill is our mother and it should be treated with respect. It needs to be saved if Delhi, Gurgaon and Faridabad have to survive as it is a storehouse of oxygen and water. It also protects us from desertification,” said Jitender Bhadana.