The wildlife corridor of the Aravallis in Gurgaon and Faridabad harbours a richer “variety of mammals” than the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary, despite not having as much protection, according to a recent study. The finding, its proponents say, indicates the importance of preserving this section of forest cover in Haryana.
The study — a “systematic assessment” of mammals in the wildlife corridor formed by the Aravalli hills in Gurgaon and Faridabad with the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary in Delhi — has been carried out by Sunil Harsana, a researcher from Mangar village, with “inputs” from ecologist Dr Ghazala Shahabuddin and environmental analyst Chetan Agarwal. Dr Shahabuddin and Agarwal are also Senior Fellows at the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research (CEDAR).
Conducted over two seasons in 2019, the study is “supported” by WWF-India Small Grants Programme and CEDAR.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Harsana said, “The most interesting finding of the study was that in comparison to Asola, the Haryana portion of the Aravallis had more wildlife movement — despite the fact that Asola is a wildlife sanctuary and has more legal protection.”
This is stated in the study as well: “Both Gurgaon and Faridabad Aravallis were found to harbour extremely rich variety of mammals, more so than Asola WLS which is the only part of this area having formal protection as a wildlife sanctuary…”
It states that this can be attributed to “the attitude of tolerance to wildlife” amongst the local population, “general low density of people”, and “subsistence agricultural practices” prevalent in the two districts.
“The study indicated that the hotspot of wildlife in this corridor is actually between Damdama and Mangar Bani, and wildlife moves from there to Asola through the Aravalli in Faridabad. This indicates that Asola will survive as long as the Aravalli region of Gurgaon and Faridabad survives. If this finishes, Asola will automatically finish as well. It is, hence, critical to protect this region,” said Harsana.
The study reveals that 15 species of mammals were recorded in the 200 sq km area that was covered, including Gurgaon Aravallis, Mangar Bani, Faridabad Aravallis, and Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. Although the largest number of species was recorded in Faridabad Aravallis (14), followed by Gurgaon Aravallis (11), Mangar Bani (10) and Asola (9), the encounter rates in Mangar Bani and Gurgaon Aravallis were 30% higher.
Leopard species, the study found, “may be increasing” in this region, which is also indicated by “increasing trend in conflict situations and road-kills over the last 10 years”. The density of leopards and other endangered species, including striped hyena, the study finds, is approximately double in Gurgaon Aravallis of what it is in Faridabad and Asola.
Warning that highways, especially the Gurgaon-Faridabad Expressway, and increasing construction are a “major threat” to the wildlife corridor, the study states, “It is imperative to control land use change and protect the wildlife corridor and habitat from further fragmentation, construction and deforestation…”
Dr Shahabuddin reiterated this, stating that the Gurgaon-Faridabad expressway poses a major barrier to movement of wildlife between the Aravallis of Delhi and Haryana.
“Construction of expressways and highways, and planning, also needs to take into account wildlife in the city, such as by constructing underpasses or flyovers that allow at least a portion of the wildlife to cross from one part to the other and prevent complete fragmentation of wildlife populations between Aravallis of Delhi and Haryana. It is rare for such a densely populated metropolitan area to have this kind of wildlife… Community-based conservation must be looked at which doesn’t restrict what is already happening in terms of grazing and farming — it is the low carbon lifestyle of the local people that is helping to conserve the area,” she told The Indian Express.
“The government needs to understand that even if you just protect this section of the Aravalli, most species will be able to regenerate….,” she said.
NEW DELHI: A panel set up to review norms for no-go areas that will protect certain areas from commercial activity is likely to recommend mining should be disallowed in all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the country.
Sources in the government told TOI that the committee, headed by the Union environment and forests secretary, is likely to close the debate over no-go areas as it is not inclined to reassess protected areas in view of existing legal protection provided to national parks and sanctuaries that has been supplemented by orders of the Supreme Court.
The committee was set up after a Group of Ministers (GoM) on coal asked the environment ministry to reconsider parameters for no-go areas, where mining is not permitted. They were renamed inviolate areas and the ministry asked to set new norms to be put before the GoM.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) has been publishing a series of biennial assessment report the forest cover in the country since 1987. The India State of Forest Report is recognized as the authoritative assessment of the country’s forest resources.
The India State of Forest Report 2011 is the twelfth report in the series. It is based on interpretation of satellite data recorded during October 2008-March 2009 from the indigenous IRS-P6-LISS III sensor on a resolution of 23.5m with a minimum mappable area of one hectare. The assessment made on the basis of satellite imageries is backed by rigorous ground truthing carried out by the staff of FSI. The change matrices recorded in the present report refer to changes with respect to the satellite data recorded for the previous India State of Forest Report two years earlier. Special coverage is provided to forest cover in hill districts, tribal districts and the north-east keeping in mind the special symbiotic relationship of communities with forests in these regions.
The Secretary in Ministry of Environment & Forests Shri T. Chatterjee released India State of Forest Report 2011 in National Capital today. As per the present assessment, the Forest and Tree cover of the country is 78.29 million ha, which is 23.81% of the geographical area of the country. In comparison to the 2009 assessment, after taking into account the interpretational changes, there is a decrease of 367 square km in country’s forest cover. 15 states have registered aggregate increase of 5000sqkm in their forest cover with Punjab leading with increase of 100sqkm. 12 states/UTs (mainly the NE states) have shown decrease to the extent of 867sqkm. Decline of 281 sqkm in Forest cover of Andhra Pradesh is mainly attributed to harvesting of mature plantation of Eucalyptus & other species. Decline in Forest cover of NE is particularly due to prevailing practice of shifting cultivation in this region. The state of Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country at 77,700 square km followed by Aruncachal Pradesh at 67, 410 square km. In terms of percentage of forest cover in relation to total geographical area, Mizoram tops with 90.68% followed by Lakshadweed with 84.56%. The total growing stock of India’s forests and trees outside forests is estimated as 6047.15 million cu m i.e. 4498.73 million cu m inside the recorded forest area and 1548.42 million cu m outside the recorded forests.
The India State of Forest Report 2011 contains the regular features like forest cover, tree cover, mangroves and growing stock both in forests and areas outside forests. However, it adds three new chapters that are of crucial importance in the present national and global worldview about forests. These are: a detailed assessment of bamboo resources, a production-consumption assessment of wood based on data stock in India’s forests reported under the NATCOM project. Due to its significant impact on rural/tribal economy and their livelihood the Production and consumption Study is expected to fill the information gap in this arena. The study highlights the importance of trees outside forests is meeting the requirements of industrial wood, small timber and firewood. As for the assessment of carbon stock in India’s forests, in lies at the center of international dialogue on climate change. The inclusion of these three new chapters makes the India State of Forests Report 2011 a path breaking advance over its previous editions.
October this year will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Supreme Court banning mining in the Aravalli region in Haryana. It is an anniversary that will be greeted with decidedly mixed feelings among local villagers, but with fondness on the part of the many real estate speculators who have seen the value of their landholdings skyrocket in recent years.
The Aravallis cut across a broad swathe of northern and western India – stretching from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west to Haryana and Delhi in the east. Over the next few months, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to lift the ban on mining in the ecologically sensitive region, home to a range of wildlife, and which also acts as a crucial source of groundwater for Delhi and its surrounding satellite towns.
Before 2002, the region was also a major source for grit and sand for the construction industry, not just in the national capital, but across the country. The region also supplied half the country’s requirement of silica, a critical input in materials such as glass and semiconductors.
The ban was imposed because of environmental concerns – it was subsequently tweaked over the years by the court to varying degrees. Mining in the Rajasthan Aravallis was allowed months after the ban was imposed, while the restrictions remained in place in Haryana, in the Faridabad and Gurgaon districts.
In 2009, the court reaffirmed this ban, and asked the Haryana government and miners to come up with a rehabilitation plan for the area. Over the next few weeks, the Central government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests will submit a report on those plans to the court, based on which the judges will take a call. If the rehabilitation plans pass muster, the ban on mining in the Aravalli region in Haryana could be lifted.
But what effect has the ban had over the past 10 years? As mining has declined in importance, there are encouraging signs that the environmental payoffs are working out. But ironically, even as mining comes to a halt, the Aravallis are facing a potentially bigger long-run challenge: real estate speculation.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE…
In a 2008 affidavit to the Supreme Court, the environment ministry pointed to results of a survey conducted in villages in Faridabad district. Between 1996 and 2003, ground water levels in one village declined by 17 metres, only to rise by about two metres in the years after that. In another cluster of villages in Faridabad district and neighbouring Delhi, groundwater levels rose by almost 7 metres after 2002-03.
In the years when mining was allowed, miners would dig deep down into the rock, breaking through the ground water table. The exposed water had to be pumped out for mining to continue, leading to a severe depletion of the water table, a problem which was reversed, at least partially after 2002.
“This rise in water levels may be attributed to closure of the mining activities in the area,” said the ministry officials in their affidavit. This occurred despite rainfall being below normal between 2003 and 2007. Since the ban, forest cover too has improved.
But if water tables have risen, it probably provides little joy to locals. Sher Singh, 26, a resident of Kot village, situated in the middle of the erstwhile mining belt in the part of the Aravalli range which runs through Faridabad district. “There is a lot of unemployment in the area now,” he says.
“When mining was still allowed, that was not the case – people did subcontracting work in the mines and there was a lot of employment for villagers. Now people go to Gurgaon and Faridabad to work but jobs are few and far between.”
Points out Aamir, 17, a resident of Dhauj village just up the road from Kot. “Since the closure of the mines in 2002, many of the youth in this area have taken to crime. There are a number of boys who are in jail right now on major criminal charges such as dacoity or rape.” Much of this has happened, he says, since 2002.
“When mining was still allowed, everyone in the village, of all ages, used to be involved, and each one used to earn at least some money,” says a local property dealer. Some of the larger subcontractors who provided labour to the mines earned as much as Rs 10,000-20,000 per day while even smaller contractors earned about Rs 500 per day, he says. “Now, after the mines closed, many of the boys in the village work as drivers in Gurgaon and Faridabad.”
And he sees this as a good thing. “They earn about Rs 8,000 a month and many are happy,” he laughs. “They get dressed, they get out, and are back home by 8 in the evening. It’s a good job for them. And with the money they bring in, there is at least some development in the village, which was not the case earlier.”
People are more educated than earlier as well, he says. “In the past, people would just go work in the mines and return home. Now the boys have more exposure to the outside world.”
SOLD OUT TOO EARLY
The property dealer is not doing too badly either – his house is one of the biggest in the village, and even as mining has declined, the area, given its proximity to Delhi, has become a focus for real estate speculation on a large scale. Several thousand acres of land have been gobbled up by developers and individuals. The dealer names prominent politicians and senior media persons who bought land in the area. If changes in land use pattern are eventually allowed, the current owners will make a killing.
But, most of the villagers sold out much earlier at far lower prices, missing out on the boom. “Villagers sold out in the 80s and 90s at a few thousand rupees an acre,” says Sadiq, another property dealer and resident of Alampur village. “Now most of the land is owned by outsiders and property can go for as high as Rs 40-45 lakh an acre.”
Last year, the Haryana government proposed a new district development plan for the area which would have allowed over 20 different kinds of real estate developments including farmhouses, industrial projects and hotels.
Subsequently that plan was amended, but it still allows for 500-hectare sized mega tourism projects, and education projects of around 40 hectares each.
“There are certainly plans being floated but there seems to be little clarity on what will finally come through,” says the real estate dealer. And all this talk is bringing the speculators in. “Real estate rates are now increasing by the day,” says Sadiq.
One miner, who had a number of mining leases in the region which were operative before the ban, argues that large real estate players have a vested interest in keeping mining out. “To some extent the two (real estate and mining), have opposing interests,” he says.
“With increase in land values, real estate is a bigger threat to the area than mining,” says Chetan Agarwal, an independent researcher who works on environmental issues. “With the SC orders, mining in the future will be banned or affect a small area at best. Also, following a ban, there is possibility of an improvement in the local environment. However, real estate activity has already started spreading, and will potentially cover a far bigger area. It is also hard to reverse,” he says.
BENEFICIARIES OF THE BAN
But there is another potential set of beneficiaries of the mining ban in Haryana. The net effect of the 2002 Supreme Court decisions was that while mining was allowed to continue in Rajasthan, a ban remained in Haryana.
In December 2011, the Central Empowered Committee of Supreme Court (CEC), a body which advises the court on matters related to forest conservation, conducted an investigation of the extent of illegal mining in Alwar in Rajasthan (which borders Haryana) and through which the Aravallis extend. The investigation also covered the district of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Haryana.
In both Rajasthan and UP, the CEC found widespread instances of illegal mining – in Saharanpur alone, the CEC says, over 2.4 lakh cubic metres of boulder, sand and bajri was illegally mined and transported between July and September 2011. “Illegal mining on a massive scale,” said the CEC, “was going in UP, with the entire process being ‘legalised and facilitated by the concerned officers of the state.” And in Rajasthan, the problem was, if anything worse. “The area under illegal mining has increased substantially as in 2010 compared to 2005,” said the CEC.
But it was the reasons for the expansion in the scale of illegal mining, as given by the CEC, which are interesting. “The closure of legal mining in Haryana, and the consequent sky rocketing of the construction material prices has enabled/continues to enable persons involved in illegal mining to make windfall profits,” says the CEC.
Much of the sand and grit mined in Rajasthan (both legally and illegally) ultimately comes to be processed in the stone crushing zone in Faridabad district of Haryana itself. The stone crushers in this area used to process stone from mines located just a few kilometres away. “But now trucks come from a few hundred kilometres away,” says Narender Kumar, who owns one of the 162 stone crushers in the area. “And this has added to the transportation cost of materials. There is also a severe shortage of stone for the crushers here,” he says.
Som Sethi, of SS & Company, who had a number of mining leases in the region claims that prices of grit have risen from Rs 250 per tonne in 2002 to over Rs 400 per tonne in 2009, and are currently ruling at over Rs 750 per tonne. The upshot? The mining lobby in UP and Rajasthan, says the CEC, “…are making windfall profits because of continued closure of mining leases and consequent steep rise in the prices of construction material.”
So here’s the conundrum: mining ban in one area leads to more illegal mining in other areas. Then there’s the prospect of a massive real estate expansion. The policy dilemmas in the Aravalli will continue beyond the 10th anniversary of the original mining ban.
PUSHKAR: From a distance, the scraped hill, minuscule in scale, seemed a work of the past. But a closer view revealed the machinations of the mining lobby that works in the quiet of the night. Barely a few kilometres from Pushkar, at Tilora village, adjacent to the eco club, environmental imprints of mining activity were distinctly visible. The hill from the road nearby visibly did not reveal any recent mining activity. But a little uphill walk revealed the extent of the damage.
The entire hill inside was like a hollow gorge, with the one facing the road as a shield to conceal the activity. The scars of recent mining on the hills were still fresh. And despite the dust storms the wheels of the truck from the freshly cut hill, were clearly inscribed on the sand and rubble. At the base of the hill lay heaps of rubble, probably waiting to be carried out, in the dark of the night.
But it is not just Pushkar. The entire state is sitting on a potential outburst of mining activities. And according to officials, “Mining carried out by small lease holders having quarry licences or very small leases (less than 5 ha) in the state is causing immense pressure on the environment. Unregulated “legal” mining and rampant illegal mining in Rajasthan has systematically destroyed forests, devastated the Aravallis, and played havoc with the water resources of the state. Talk to people and they retort, “Who does not know about this? And despite the Supreme Court ban there is nothing that is being done to check illegal mining. The Aravallis are the only barrier to the advance of the Thar but, indiscriminate stone quarrying and illegal construction in forest area are ravaging the range every day. If matters proceed on their present course, Delhi is likely to be a desert in 40 years.”
There are thousands of unorganised mines, which can be as small as one-twentieth of a hectare. They fall out of the purview of government control and there are no accounts of these mines. “Check out the extent of illegal mining in Nagaur that’s so close to Ajmer. And the dunes begin right there. Plus because of rampant mining in this belt, tree cover in the area is almost negligible and the water table has drastically dropped,” said a villager.
According to Rajasthan State Environment Policy 2010, “The mining activity has a close link with environment and forests and is often in conflict. Besides, a significant part of state’s known mineral reserves are in areas which are under forest cover. Inadequate environmental management in small and illegal mining leases by small miners is causing immense pressure on the environment in the state. The lease area being small, the lease holders are unable to use modern mechanized mining methods and also unable to take required environmental protection measures for compliance with various environmental laws. “Besides, according to Centre for Science and Environment’s CSE Sixth State of India’s Environment report, “The state government has failed to regulate illegal mining in forest areas. Udaipur, the most forested district of Rajasthan is also the most mined. The government has issued leases for hundreds of mines in Sariska National Park. Despite repeated Supreme Court orders to close them down, mining continues unabated in Sariska and Jamwa Ramgarh sanctuary. This has had a devastating impact on the forest cover of the state. In the Bijola area, there were 23,800 ha of dense forests in 1971; by 1991, only 12,800 ha remained, and only 2,700 ha was dense. The National Centre for Advocacy Studies reports that about 4,996 ha of this forest land has been converted for mining since 1980.”
The report goes on to recommend a range of policy initiatives that could help India meet this challenge. Some of its main recommendations include recognising people’s right to say “no” (mining should not take place without the consent of the people); independent, impartial preparation of EIA reports; disallowing mining in forests; framing stronger mine closure regulations; and “doing more with less” a key to sustainable development. But despite the report being in the public domain for some time now, things stand as they were, incessantly eroding the Aravalli range and disturbing the eco-system.
The earth seems to have opened up under the government’s feet. One of the oldest industries known to mankind — mining — has suddenly emerged as the deepest pit of scams in India. There are allegations cropping up from almost every mining state, and the figures allegedly plundered add up to the biggest scam in the country. The current crop of scams started hitting the headlines last year. Former chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, was accused of stashing away Rs 4,000 crore garnered through mining scams.
From Orissa, Rabi Das, convenor of civil society group Jan Sammelani, petitioned the Supreme Court that minerals such as iron ore, coal and manganese worth more than Rs 7,000 crore were being smuggled out of the state every year. On March 17, Karnataka’s leader of opposition, Siddaramaiah, alleged illegal mining losses to the state totalling Rs 5,000 crore.
The Union ministry of mines put a value of a mere Rs 64 crore as the amount lost to illegal mining in the first half of the previous financial year (April-September 2009).
But the total allegations made in court or on the floors of state assemblies tot up to more than Rs 20,000 crore — higher than the allocation proposed in the current Union budget for the country’s road transport system.
How does an industry that contributes less than 2 per cent of the national economic output account for its largest scam?
The blame game
The answer lies in outdated policies and the fact that mining remains one of the principal ‘real estates’ that government can hand out. The dissimilarities with other similar industries — telecom and oil and gas, where the government gives out spectrum and prospecting land — are probably because of the first reason.
Telecom minister A Raja has been accused of ‘forgoing’ Rs 10,000-100,000 crore while handing out spectrum. The mud-slingers said he could have priced it differently. But if a similar calculation is done for mining, by the government’s own admission, the ‘loss’ would have come to Rs 2,000 crore a year.
Here’s how the figure can be calculated. The amount the mining states made last year from the ad valorem duty of 10 per cent on some minerals introduced in August 2009 was Rs 4,000 crore. Before that, the outdated royalty system — under which a miner paid a fixed royalty, such as Rs 19 a tonne of high-grade iron ore that has been selling for thousands of rupees — fetched half the amount for the states annually.
Still, it’s a fraction of the money allegedly lost to illegal mining.
The problem is intense in Goa, a microcosm of the problems besetting an industry that’s governed by states.
Though Goa does not figure among the top eight mineral producers by value, it allocates a tenth of its land to mining. Last year, the profit of Goa’s top five mining companies crossed Rs 8,000 crore. Despite this, the state’s revenues from mining remained barely 1 per cent.
Following complaints, the Union government stopped future mining this February and ordered an environment impact assessment. But just before, the Centre cleared 100 new mining leases. “If 110 mines are causing damage, imagine the devastation if another 100 are allowed?” asks Manohar Parrikar, current leader of the opposition.
Add to that the rise in illegal mining. In the Economic Survey of 2005-06, nearly 2,66,000 square metres of government land was said to have been ‘illegally encroached’ by mining companies. According to Parrikar, Goa’s ore exports exceeded its production by nearly 10 per cent in 2007-08, which rose to 17 per cent in 2008-09. “How can you export more than you produce? There’s obviously massive illegal mining taking place in the state,” he says.
Even the state’s environment minister, Aleixo Sequeira, told the Assembly in March that 85 out of 99 mine operators were continuing mining without the mandatory air pollution clearance.
Stemming the rot
Moved by the scale of problems, state and central governments have belatedly stepped up efforts to address them.
The report of Anwarul Hoda Committee, which suggested comprehensive changes to the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act (1957) in 2006, is set to form the backbone of a new policy drafted by the government. Handique told HT this week that his ministry hoped to table it in Parliament during the Monsoon session.
The Karnataka government, pushed by the Supreme Court to act on the 2008 report by Lok Ayukta N. Santosh Hegde, told the Union mining ministry at end-April that it raided the Bellikere and Karwar ports in March and stopped illegal exports of 5.5 million tonnes of iron ore.
The Reddy brothers — Karunakara, Somashekhar and Janardhan — who allegedly run illegal iron ore mines in the state, got a reprieve last week from the Supreme Court that allowed them to restart operations. But the state is no longer treating them with velvet gloves.
The Orissa Vigilance Commission has booked nine cases against mining companies with the allegations totalling Rs 520 crore.
But the biggest measure lies in the new policy — giving an annuity to the people affected by mining. Handique told HT: “Money has to be given by the mining companies. They cannot get everything free. Many of them don’t like the aspects of annuity. But you’re taking their property for good and you won’t give them anything? The Naxals have started talking about this.”
If mining fuels discontent that sways groups of people towards “India’s gravest internal security threat”, the Maoists, it will become the country’s biggest headache in more ways than one. This pit is definitely going to get deeper.
Reports by Shalini Singh from Goa, Salil Mekkad from Karnataka, Priya Ranjan Sahu from Orissa, and Aasheesh Sharma and Praveen Donthi from New Delhi.
Mahadevan Ramaswamy and Ramaswamy R. Iyer IN THE HINDU
Those who were impatient with the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s struggle must now re-examine their thinking in the light of the Second Interim Report of the Experts’ Committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The Second Interim Report of the Experts’ Committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India to assess the planning and implementation of environmental safeguards with respect to the Sardar Sarovar (SSP) and Indira Sagar projects (ISP) on the Narmada River is a clear finding, by a government committee, of the egregious failure of the government machinery on virtually all the aspects studied.
The report covers the status of compliances on catchment area treatment (CAT), flora and fauna and carrying capacity upstream, command area development (CAD), compensatory afforestation and human health aspects in project impact areas. (The scope of the committee did not include the issues of displacement and rehabilitation or hydro-meteorological issues, which were dealt with by other groups.) The report is a severe indictment of the governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and of the bodies set up by these governments to implement the projects for the ‘integrated development’ of the Narmada Valley. Peppered with phrases like ‘gross violation’, ‘negligence’, ‘highly unsatisfactory,’ ‘inadequate,’ ‘serious lapse’ and ‘non compliance’ it states in strong and unequivocal terms that with respect to virtually all of the aspects under consideration compliance is either highly inadequate or absent altogether (a partial exception being compensatory afforestation). Construction, on the other hand, has been proceeding apace: the ISP is complete and the SSP nearing completion. The report recommends that no further reservoir-filling be done at either SSP or ISP; that no further work be done on canal construction; and that even irrigation from the existing network be stopped forthwith until failures of compliance on the various environmental parameters have been fully remedied.
This is a major development. It must be seen against the backdrop of the protracted legal battle fought by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) against the various lapses, failures and deficiencies in these projects. In a climate where environmental and human rights issues are increasingly being sacrificed at the altar of ‘development,’ the NBA has been persevering untiringly with its struggle for decades. Those who have tended to become impatient with that struggle must now re-examine their thinking in the light of the present report.
The legal history of the NBA’s petitions is a long one. We need not go into the High Courts’ or the Supreme Court’s earlier pronouncements, some of which affirmed the fact of lapses and inadequacies several years ago. What needs to be noted is that even the majority verdict of the Supreme Court in 2000, which rejected the NBA’s petition and allowed the project to proceed, and was widely perceived as indicating a shift in judicial thinking in favour of ‘development’ and against public interest litigation on environmental and displacement aspects, did reaffirm the importance of those aspects. While directing the government to ensure the speedy completion of the projects under consideration and taking the view that the existing machinery for environmental protection and relief and rehabilitation (R&R) must be presumed to be working properly unless proved otherwise, the SC made an important mandatory stipulation for the continuance of work, namely, that further progress would be subject to checks at every stage (every increase of 5 m in dam height) on the status of these measures. Subsequent litigation over the years has related largely to the issue of compliance with this condition.
The first interim report of the Expert Committee, dealing with the issue of backwater effects, rejected the project authorities’ contention that on recalculation the backwater level of SSP was going to be much lower than earlier stated. That contention had been used to assert that gates and other proposed structures could be proceeded with without concern over any additional submergence over that relating to the approved level of 121.7 metres. The report showed this to be untrue. Now the second interim report comes up with a strong finding of non-compliance on virtually all environmental aspects. This is a clear vindication of the NBA’s assertions over the years.
It is a matter of grave concern for more than one reason. One, this is not a non-official committee or a committee of environmental activists, but a government committee consisting almost entirely of technocrats, retired forest officials and the like; two, its findings point to a fundamental and near total violation of significant aspects of the Supreme Court’s judgment; and three, the severe environmental damage documented in its pages is largely irreversible.
Even assuming that ‘development’ can be pursued without any concern for the environment, and that some argument can be found to defend the flouting of a Supreme Court judgment, there are several other concerns that should worry the votaries of ‘large infrastructural development at all costs.’ Untreated catchments can shorten the life of projects through siltation, thus altering their cost-benefit ratios; they can also bring about increased run-off and washing-off of soil nutrients with adverse consequences for the productivity of irrigated land (as also for the aquatic and river-bank species and fisheries); dam operations in such unstable catchments can lead (and have led, in at least one incident already here) to flash floods with tragic consequences; and so on. These are hard, practical and often economic consequences that can be noted by all and not only by ‘environmentalists’. One hopes that Indian society as a whole — citizens and government alike — will take at least these concerns seriously.
In the meanwhile, the SC, possibly not having yet been seized of the second environmental committee’s report, has said that work on canals can start subject to the approval of the MoEF of the CAD plans submitted for the Omkareshwar Hydroelectric Project (OHP) and the ISP. However, since the report is itself in pursuance of court directives, the MoEF can and should halt all further work on the project, bringing this anomaly to the court’s attention.
Where do we go from here? We cannot say, but many will be watching keenly to see how the government responds to the recommendations of its committee. We must hope that the response will not be such as to make us doubt the seriousness of its professions of concern for the environment.
Beginning March 1, mining activity is all set to come to a grinding halt in Haryana courtesy environment concerns.
With the framing of rules for securing environmental clearance for mines still pending, mining activity will have to be closed down in view of the expiry of the window period for framing of such rules to carry on mining given to Haryana by a High Court order beyond February 28. Financial Commissioner and Principal Secretary, Mines, Yudhvir Singh Malik said, “We will be sending an advisory to our mining officers in the field to ensure that no mining takes place after tomorrow till the time the case of environmental clearance is decided.”
The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), in September 2006, issued a note stating that environmental clearance for all projects would be mandatory and applied it to mining as well. However, since the MoEF’s preceding notification (1994) exempted mining of minor minerals (essentially construction material), Haryana went ahead with it awarding its mines on lease, maintaining that it was up to the successful bidder to get environmental clearance.
However, this was challenged in the High Court where it was stated that this notification was not applicable to mining of minor minerals. The High Court, in its order in May 2009, ruled that environmental clearance was mandatory for minor minerals as well. Giving time to Haryana till February 28, 2010, the court said the state should prepare its terms of reference and submit it to the expert appraisal committee for framing rules under the environment impact assessment report.
The government of Haryana prepared the same and submitted these to the committee, which in turn, said it did not have the mandate to prepare the rules under the EIA. Subsequently, the committee went into a review of the order as did Haryana. The department added that it was willing to frame rules if the need so arises but would require time and sought an extension of deadline. Meanwhile, a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the time allocated to Haryana by the High Court for framing of rules for environmental clearance. This SLP will be taken up for hearing on March 19 after which the fate of the mines in the state will be known. The High Court has already expressed its inability to pass any order in the matter since the hearing on the SLP is slated for March 19.
This means that none of the mines, given on contract or lease, can function for the time being. A majority of the mines in Haryana are auctioned for minor minerals. While those in Panchkula and Yamunanagar have been auctioned for boulders, gravel and sand, those in Ambala, Karnal, Panipat, Sonepat and Faridabad have been given for river sand along the Yamuna while the mines in Rewari have been auctioned for sandstone. A few mines are operational in Dadri as well.
JAIPUR: In an order aimed at stopping further devastation of the Aravallis, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered closure of about 157 mines in the Aravallis whose lease had expired on December 16, 2002. The court was hearing a PIL filed by the Bandua Mukti Morcha against the state of Rajasthan for illegal mining in the Aravalli hills.
According to the Binu Tanta, the advocate on record for the Bandua Mukti Morcha, “The court order would affect about 157 mines in the state. The leases of these mines had expired on December 16, 2002, and were to be renewed. However, now the court has ordered that none of these leases should be renewed.”
The court order will immediately affect about 34 mines whose renewal process was almost complete. “Moreover, the state of Rajasthan has been giving affidavits saying that these mines were legal and that these mines are not in the Aravallis. So the court order is a blow to the state government,” added Tanta. The court has granted the state four months’ time to complete its proposed satellite imagery of the entire 15,000 km of the Aravalli range spanning 15 districts and present the status to it.
“The survey is to be conducted by the Forest Survey of India, the Rajasthan government in consultation and coordination with the Central Empowered Committee on the Aravallis. The court specifically mentioned that money will not be a problem and has asked the state to take Rs 5 crore from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for the same,” a source said.
The CAMPA fund consist of money collected as penalty from various states in the country for diversion of forest land for non-forest use. This fund amounting to a total of Rs 11,000 crore, after a SC, has been released to all states for their use.
THE Supreme Court on May 8 banned mining activities in Faridabad, Gurgaon and Mewat districts of Haryana. The ban will be in force till the state comes out with a report on how it will restore the ecology of the 450 sq km area, including the lakes around the Aravalli hills, laid waste by mining. The court passed the order on a 1995 petition that was later merged with the omnibus forest case the court has been hearing since 1996.
The apex court till now had been stressing on balancing mining with ecological concerns but satellite images showing dried lakes convinced the judges an immediate ban is needed.
The state government and the mining lobby had been using the leeway given by previous court orders to carry on mining. The restoration plan is to be evaluated by the Central Empowered Committee which advises the Supreme Court on forest related matters and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. “The court first decided to deal with the mining issue due to public outcry against the lakes drying up. Other issues like encroachment will be taken up later,” said Ravi Kant, legal adviser to the Faridabad-based non-profit, Shakti Vahini, that has been lobbying against mining in the area. The mining debris has blocked the natural channels that feed the lakes and deforestation has led to soil erosion and increased run-off that no longer recharges groundwater.
Actions and words vary
Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on February 27 said Badkhal and Surajkund lakes in Faridabad and Dumdama lake in Gurgaon would be revived before the Commonwealth Games, 2010. But his government’s department of geology and mines went ahead with auctioning of mines in Sirohi and Khori Jamalpur villages in Faridabad on March 3, 2009, without bothering about environmental consequences. It was another matter that no one came forward with a bid because of the ongoing court case. The apex court stayed the auction on March 18.
The Badkhal and Surajkund lakes, 20 to 30 km from New Delhi, were picnic hotspots till the 1980s. Now the dry lake-beds are used for sports events to highlight their condition. The Dhauj Jheel in Faridabad too is drying.
The Supreme Court in 1996 had directed mining leases could not be renewed within two to five kilometre radius of Badkhal without permission from the central and state pollution control boards. Mining in other areas continued unabated. Hooda justified mining by saying that the lakes had not dried up because of mining alone. The mining lobby said pretty much the same in court: the groundwater depleted because Delhi Government sunk tubewells near the border.
State tourism minister Kiran Chaudhary disowned any responsibility for the lakes. She said she was responsible only for the commercial complexes in the lake resort. “The irrigation department is responsible for filling the lake,” she said.
Toxic revival plan
The only plan so far to revive the Badkhal lake, prepared by the Haryana Urban Development Authority (huda), proposed filling the dry bed with slurry from the thermal power plant near National Institute of Technology, Faridabad. Officials said the flyash would settle at the bottom of the lake and then the clear water above could be used for water sports. But water contaminated with flyash will have heavy amounts of toxic nitrates and heavy metals, pointed out S P Datta, director of Nuclear Research Laboratory, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi. “A system for removing the flyash will have to be incorporated in such a plan and that will be very costly,” he said.
As for the Surajkund lake, Chaudhary said she had given the relevant file to the culture ministry, overseeing the lake’s rejuvenation plan. The Archaeological Survey of India (asi) that has to implement the plan said it could revive the lake only if the state does something about restoring the catchment area. “The state should take care that water channels feeding the lake are not disturbed,” said B R Mani, joint director general, asi. No department is willing to take responsibility to restore the lakes; no one knows who will.