Human activity is making entire hills in the Aravallis disappear, with disastrous long-term conequences
Upon being told that 31 of the 128 hills of the Aravalli range that are located in Rajasthan have disappeared over the last 50 years due to illegal mining and construction, Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur wryly remarked that “people have become Hanuman and are running away with hills”. The irony is not lost on anyone—the monkey-god, as per the Ramayana, had uprooted the hill bearing the sanjeevani herb to save Lakshmana’s life. The SC bench, comprising Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, directed the Rajasthan chief secretary to stop illegal mining in a 115.34 hectare area of the range within the state within 48 hours and also ordered him to furnish an affidavit on the progress by October 29. Although the state admitted to rampant illegal activity wreaking havoc with the Aravallis, it also told the court that action is being taken against the companies that are carrying out these illegal activities. The Rajasthan government receives Rs 5,000 crore in royalties from mining activities in Aravallis. However, the apex court has ordered that they be shut down, saying that the state government cannot compensate for the increased pollution that such mining has caused.
The sorry state of the oldest range in the country can no longer be ignored. A study by Udaipur University found that the vegetation cover of the Aravallis has decreased from 80% at the beginning of the 20th century to just 7% in 2001. Another study, by the Wildlife Institute of India in the latter half of 2016, describes the forest area in the Aravallis as the “most degraded” in the country. According to this study, human settlement across the entire Aravalli range has increased by 158% in 26 years, from 247 sq km in 1980 to 638 sq km in 2016. At the same time, the area taken up by industries has gone up from nil to 46 sq km. The Aravallis are ecologically sensitive and important zones for a diverse set of species and also prevent—or used to, at least—the desertification of the National Capital Region (NCR). But, even after the apex court ratified the definition of forests in a judgment in 2006 and announced that such areas were not to be uprooted for any activity whatsoever, illegal mining and construction has continued unabated. For example, 25,000 hectares of forests have been identified under the relevant law in Haryana, but the status of nearly 12,000 of these continues to remain undecided. If the state governments of Haryana and Rajasthan act like Hanuman, though not in spirit, it will not be long before the Aravallis are completely lost.