Surge in illegal farmhouses in Aravallis over past year | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Surge in illegal farmhouses in Aravallis over past year

By, Gurugram/sohna
Jul 09, 2024 05:12 AM IST

The illegal construction boom in the Aravallis is supported by hundreds of labourers who enter the region daily.The labourers live in rented rooms in nearby villages and walk into the area every morning, leaving either late at night or sometimes staying over

The Aravalli region has witnessed a concerning rise in the construction of illegal farmhouses over the past year, belying forest department claims of no new construction or illegal mining (the two are related because stones mined illegally from the Aravalli range are used in the construction).

Illegal construction work of farmhouses going on in the Aravalli mountains near Raisina village in Gurugram. (Parveen Kumar/HT)
Illegal construction work of farmhouses going on in the Aravalli mountains near Raisina village in Gurugram. (Parveen Kumar/HT)

Haryana Minister of State for Environment, Forest, and Wildlife Sanjay Singh on Sunday said that since the beginning of this year, there has not been a single case of illegal mining. He added that the department conducts surprise checks and visits the Aravallis for random checks , but has found no illegal construction activity. “There are no illegal constructions taking place in Aravallis, no mining in the area between Gurugram and Nuh. Our enforcement teams are visiting the spots; people know we will take strict action against them so they are cautious now,” he said.

Rajeev Tejyan, District Forest Officer of Gurugram, seconded this. “Some locals are involved in minor soil mining but not rocks. We have taken action against those who were found transporting illegal mining stones and our teams are conducting raids but have not found anyone carrying out any illegal activities in Aravallis.”

Yet, on field visits on Saturday and Sunday, Hindustan Times found at least 50 spots where illegal construction activity is going on in the Aravallis , and spoke to the contractors, security guards, labounothing has changed.

Residents and activists point to increased construction activity and inadequate enforcement efforts. despite this not being allowed in the region under the Union environment ministry’s Aravalli Notification of 1992 .

The illegal construction boom in the Aravallis is supported by hundreds of labourers who enter the region daily. Security guards deployed in farmhouses said that construction is also carried out at night when there is no enforcement.

“I have been working here for the last 20 years, and more than 20 tractor trolleys transport stones after illegal mining every night. We do not complain as we will end up losing our jobs, we witness it silently ,” said one guard, Suresh Kumar, 48.

The labourers live in rented rooms in nearby villages and walk into the area every morning, leaving either late at night or sometimes staying over.

Mahender Singh, a security guard in Block A of the Raisina area in the Aravallis, revealed that contractors use illegally mined stones to construct boundary walls. He accompanied the HT team to a few spots where construction work was on. “They collaborate with locals who provide the stones to save on transportation costs. Nights are busy in the Aravallis with many parties and high vehicle movement. We tried to intervene once, but were threatened by goons,” he said. “I have been working here for over a decade, I want to remain safe and earn for my family,” he added.

Afzal Hussain, 28, a labourer from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh lives in an under-construction luxurious farmhouse in Raisina and said that he is paid 2,000a day which is more than double what he could earn elsewhere. “The contractor pays extra as he wants to get the work completed before time. I have worked in 65 farmhouses in the last three years and am well aware of the situation. We know when to stop construction and when to start.”

And the inspections cause only minor disruptions. “If the officials come, they only do the formalities by demolishing a small portion. We reconstruct it again,” said Mukesh Pradhan, one of the contractors.

Environmental activists allege complicity. “The officials are helping the mafia thrive and operate from the Aravallis. There is a clear nexus between the officials and builders. The enforcement is just for show, and it is not surprising that illegal activities continue unabated,” said Vaishali Rana, a Gurugram-based environmentalist.

HT has photographed at least 20 boundary walls showing signs of fresh work (including wet cement in some cases). Some photographs also show labourers carrying construction material .

The Aravallis, an ecologically sensitive region, are crucial for maintaining the environmental balance in the area. Despite this, the region has become a hotspot for illegal activities, including mining and construction. Environmentalist argue that occasional patrols are insufficient to curb violations, highlighting the urgent need for robust measures to protect the range.

“The mining mafia operates with impunity, transporting materials for construction and boundary walls. The lack of stringent enforcement allows them to continue their activities, causing irreparable damage to the environment,” said Rana.

And even when people are fined, “The fines are so low that they are not a deterrent. The builders factor these penalties into their costs,” added Rana. “We need a comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue, including higher penalties, increased patrolling, and stricter enforcement,” Rana emphasized.

Amit Rathi, a resident of Gauratpurbas village said that the authorities must act swiftly to safeguard the environmental integrity of this vital region. “Despite the establishment of a committee to monitor and demolish encroachments under the supervision of the Conservator of Forest (South Circle) as per NGT orders (Memo no 357-Ft-1-2022/634 dated 11.02.2022), the committee appears to be failing in its duty, allowing deliberate destruction of the Aravallis,” he said.

This situation underscores the urgent need for an Aravallis Task Force, including active citizens, activists, and locals, to protect the region. “ What is happening with the soil excavated by numerous trolleys? Where are the quarried stones used for boundary walls coming from, especially since stones appear to be excavated on-site? How is construction permitted despite the presence of an NGT-supervised committee to prevent such violations? These issues call for immediate and robust enforcement measures to safeguard the Aravallis and restore the functionality of all check posts,” said Rana.

Neelam Ahluwalia, founder, People for Aravallis said “One of the crucial demands in the Haryana Green Manifesto 2024 that citizens have put together is that Aravallis and Shivaliks should be declared as ‘Special Ecological Zones’ where no illegal constructions, mining and other ecologically destructive activities should be permitted. This document will be given to all political parties before the Haryana assembly elections this year.”

In July 2023, the state government formed a seven-member team called the “Aravalli Rejuvenation Board” to curb illegal mining in the protected Aravallis region.

KK Yadav, retired chief town planner of Haryana, and a resident of Manesar, said if anyone visits the Aravallis, a number of construction is still taking place secretly in the farmhouses, especially the boundary walls. “Despite orders by Supreme Court, farmhouse owners and mining mafia, one fails to understand, have no fear of law,” he said.

Gurugram Deputy Commissioner Nishant Kumar Yadav said that the team would strengthen infrastructure, install CCTV cameras, deploy drones, and build jogging and cycling tracks to deter illegal miners. He added that a dedicated police station has been established to take action on cases related to illegal mining and other illegal activities.

The administration launched a lot of initiatives and even plans to deploy locals as volunteers and met many villagers. The plan is yet to be finalized.

“ I have issued directions to prevent illegal mining and construction activities in the Aravalli region, and the need for increased vigilance and strict action against the perpetrators. Prevention of illegal construction, particularly around the Raisina hills is a prime concern,” he said.

He added that he has instructed “ Sub-Divisional Magistrate Sohna, Sonu Bhatt, to personally inspect the hilly areas of the sub-division and put a stop to any unauthorized construction.

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