Indiscriminate mining has irreversibly damaged Aravallis, suggest documents
Haryana has sought the resumption of stone mining in the Aravallis over a decade after the Supreme Court in 2009 suspended extraction of all major and minor minerals in the eco-sensitive region, triggering fears among experts that it could reverse gains made in the region over the last 12 years. The experts said wildlife has since 2009 increased in the region and that the resumption of mining could harm it besides worsening the air quality. They argued the rehabilitation measures suggested for mining to resume are also inviable given the extensive damage already caused due to mining with no regard for ecology.
The court banned mining until provisions for restoration and reclamation were complied with, particularly in cases where pits or quarries had been abandoned. In an application filed before the court, Haryana on March 3, 2021 sought the resumption with compliance with all statutory permissions including environmental clearance. It said justice and the economy are required to be taken care of along with ecological balance.
Haryana asked the court to accept its rehabilitation and reclamation plan for mined areas and allow mining operations in Gurugram, Faridabad, and Mewat. But documents, including affidavits and court orders enclosed with the application, seen by HT, suggest the damage done in the Faridabad stretch of the Aravallis is beyond rehabilitation now.
An affidavit enclosed with the application submitted by YS Malik, principal secretary, mines and geology, in March 2010 said in the Aravallis, opencast mining is followed, and stocks once mined are removed from the site and can never be replenished. “The so-called rehabilitation or restoration plans can partake of provisions of tree cover, creation of water pondage and recharge systems during rains depending upon the depth of excavation or solid waste reclamation refill sites be covered with vegetation over a period of time,” the affidavit said. It added the only other possible manner of rehabilitation of mined areas used across the world is by way of creation of ecotourism sites in a project mode wherein a private initiative is called upon to develop these areas and certain areas allowed to be commercially used for the economic viability of restoration projects.”
According to the documents, Haryana engaged a consultant to prepare the mining rehabilitation plan as per the Supreme Court orders. The work order was issued on November 23, 2009. Haryana simultaneously engaged another private consultant to identify a 600-hectare area in Faridabad for the mining of minor minerals. It has also prepared a 30-year prospective mining plan and specific environmental impact assessment studies in Faridabad.
According to the salient features of Haryana’s rehabilitation plan, 29 pits spread across 126.67ha have been identified for restoration. Of the 29, 13 are wet pits where the groundwater level was hit during mining operations and hence have water accumulated; 16 are dry pits that have been excavated to varying depths. No backfilling can be done in wet pits. Benches will be formed along the slopes and those will be planted on. These wet pits will also be used commercially for eco-tourism. The dry pits will be backfilled only to the extent possible.
RP Balwan, a former forest conservator of Gurugram, said rehabilitation of these pits is impossible. “Making steps on the pits is as bad as mining. The reason is miners have not followed any rules and regulations or mining parameters stipulated by the Indian Bureau of Mines. I was a forest officer during that time, and I saw miners only plundered with no regard for ecology. Now the entire landscape is damaged. Thankfully, after mining stopped wildlife has increased but now, they want to start again.”
Anil Grover, Haryana’s senior advocate general, on March 2 said they are ready to comply with all of the Supreme Court orders on mining issued earlier. “The SC [Supreme Court] directed us to prepare a rehabilitation plan for areas which were affected by mining. ...[the Union environment ministry] prepared it in 2013 but it is yet to be finalised. Our appeal in the SC will be to finalise the rehabilitation plan and allow us to start mining operations in Gurugram and Faridabad.”
Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst, said much forest has regrown since the ban on mining. “Handing over the mines in the name of rehabilitation to the same firms who ravaged the area in the first place would be tantamount to...[damaging] the landscape again. Wildlife habitat will be destroyed. Faridabad and Gurgaon have among the worst air quality in the country and are out of compliance with standards many times over. In such a situation allowing mining within 15-20km of urban areas will put an unconscionable load on the residents.”
The Supreme Court banned mining citing inspection of 26 mines, which indicated wide-scale non-compliance of statutory rules and regulations applicable to mines. It added in most cases, mining operations were carried out unscientifically with the sole aim of maximising profits which resulted in the indiscriminate scattering of the overburden, wasteful manner of mining in complete disregard to mineral conservation aspect, rendering reclamation of mined area impossible. “What we are emphasising is extensive mining and not individual unauthorised mining because even in the case of the former no steps to rehabilitate was ever taken. The result is that mining operations have been carried out on a disproportionate scale in the Aravalli hills mainly in Gurgaon and Faridabad including Mewat.” The court cited satellite images and added they indicate devastation caused to the area by extensive mining operations. “Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary remedies.”