If Aravalis have been devastated, ban mining: SC
on Thursday talked tough while showing its inclination for a total ban on mining in the Aravali hill areas of
Haryana’s Faridabad and Gurgaon districts, being convinced that relentless battering of this natural barrier would allow the western desert to gradually eat up the grain bowl of the Gangetic plains.
Amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar was at pains to explain to the court how for years, mine lease holders have been violating the licence conditions by digging right up to the water table leading to a massive drop in groundwater levels, causing severe drinking water shortage in the villages. He added that the lease holders had not filled up abandoned mine pits, nor taken any steps for afforestation.
The Special Forest Bench, comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices Arijit Pasayat and S H Kapadia, after continuously testing if the sustainable development framework could be applied in the area — in other words, allowing mining but under stringent conditions of eco-restoration — finally made its views clear: “If there is total devastation of Aravalis, then the logical corollary is a total ban on mining activity”.
With amicus curiae Kumar and A D N Rao consistently arguing for total ban on mining in Aravalis, the Bench said: “The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has said there is total devastation of the eco-sensitive Aravali hills. If there is total devastation, natural corrollary is total ban on mining. With the state agreeing with the CEC’s finding, you are on a stronger wicket. But the question is who should do it — the Supreme Court, the Centre or the State Government”.
The amicus curiae wanted the apex court to pass the ban order without leaving it to either the Centre or the state. Additional solicitor general Parag Tripathy, appearing for the Haryana government, supported the plea, saying any single mine lease holder having grievance against possible ban on mining should not be allowed to move the trial court or the high court as that would lead to a chaotic situation.
Wanting to be sure of the legality of a total ban on mining in the Aravali hill areas, the Bench continued to put searching questions to senior advocate Kumar and counsel Rao whether it would be correct to put a blanket ban on mining of major minerals.
While Kumar reeled off several such blanket orders passed by the Forest Bench in the past in the interest of general public and to preserve environment, Rao said mining had seriously affected the lives of human beings living in and around the areas within the Aravali hill areas.
Rao argued: “If steps are not taken to save the Aravali Hills from being razed to ground, severe consequences would follow — rapid dip in water table, drying up of lakes and spread of desert — having irreversible adverse impact on human lives and nature.”
He asked: “If the court could impose a blanket ban on non-forest activity in the forest areas of the country to save the greenery as well as wildlife, why should there be not a ban on mining to save environment and human beings?”
Persistence of Kumar and Rao appeared to be making an impact on the Bench, which said: “Once we are satisfied that there is total devastation, we can impose a total ban on mining. It is like cancelling an examination because of widespread malpractices. There also several candidates, who had appeared without committing any illegality, (who will) suffer.” What the Bench was indicating was that for addressing a greater common good for humanity as a whole, individual discomfort may be overlooked in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
Individual mine lease holders, through senior advocate Anil Devan, argued that it had never been the court’s intention right from the beginning to punish those who were adhering scrupulously to the conditions as also those who do not fall within the Aravali Hills area.
The arguments will continue on Friday.