In January, five people were killed in a landslide at Tosham’s Dadam mining zone in the Bhiwani district of Haryana. The incident put the spotlight once again on the mining activities in Aravalli hills flouting prescribed rules and threatening local ecology.
The incident took place in the Dadam stone mining project which is surrounded by the Aravalli hills and spread over an area of 48 hectares owned by Govardhan Mines & Minerals. According to the official documents, nearly three reserved forests and three protected forests falls within a 10-km radius of the mine lease area. The blasting is not permitted within 100 metres of surface structure. The depth of the water table in the area is 80 metres pre-monsoon to 78 metres post-monsoon below the surface level but the villagers allege that mining is being done in forest areas as well as below the permissible limit of 78 metres.
Dharambir Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, who represents Bhiwani in the Parliament, told Mongabay-India that the excavation was being conducted at about 250 metres against the permissible limit of 78 metres in the forest land of the Aravallis. He said, “The contractor has sucked the groundwater using high-powered motors and made big blocks of 250 metres below the surface. So the base became hollow, the rocks came down in the form of a landslide which killed five people.” In Haryana, the state government is led by the BJP.
Ramphal, who goes by his first name and is head of village Dadam, said, “the miners never followed rules” and alleged that the miners “have taken all water out of the ground which is the reason for water scarcity” in their area.
“Our fields are drying. Due to blasting in the area, we are forced to inhale dust particles as a result of which people are suffering from lung-related diseases,” he alleged.
He stressed that had the administration heard their complaints earlier the incident would not have happened. “In October 2021, we submitted a complaint with the local police station in which we mentioned that the miners are drawing water from the ground below the permissible limits and extended their mining activities beyond the designated area to the protected areas in Aravallis,” he said.
Manish Phogat, the sub-divisional magistrate of the Tosham block, admitted to Mongabay-India that they had received complaints from the villagers. “The villagers have been complaining about these issues for long. We received a complaint nearly three months ago and forwarded it to the concerned department (Haryana State Pollution Control Board).”
The concerned departments to which the complaint was forwarded were the Haryana State Pollution Control Board, the groundwater authority of Haryana and the National Green Tribunal but no action was taken.
‘Unscientific and illegal’
On July 20, 2021, the National Green Tribunal, while hearing a case filed by Dadam’s resident Kuldeep Singh, sought a report against the latter’s complaints regarding illegal mining in the forest area, deep mining in the mining area and withdrawal of groundwater in mining area without permission. It had asked Justice Pritam Pal, a former judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, to verify the facts regarding illegal mining outside the forest area by the Govardhan Mines & Minerals at Dadam Hills. The interim report of the eight-member committee was presented on October 13, 2021.
In the report, the committee noted that the “ways in the forest area were created illegally without having any valid permission and the mining equipment were found standing in the non-minable area”. It said that the “Dadam hills minor was found illegally mined” and identified two sites in the forest land where illegal mining was observed.
The committee also found that mining is not being done in a scientific manner and that mining has been done up to the depth of 109 metres against the approved 78 metres, which is in violation of conditions of environment clearance and approved mining plan.
The report also highlighted an official inspection in 2020 which had reported that groundwater is being illegally extracted among other rules being flouted following which the Haryana State Pollution Control Board had recommended the closure of mines.
Despite the rules being flouted, the Govardhan Mines & Minerals had received a go-ahead to continue mining by paying a penalty. In fact, the day on which the incident in Dadam happened was the second day of full-fledged mining after a long ban haul due to inspection.
Omprakash, the head of the farmers’ association of the area said the mines have taken a toll on the livelihood of local people. “The government does not care for locals or the environment,” Omprakash said. “They only care for their own profit and the gain of the mining companies.”
“When these mines were established, they promised employment for the villagers,” Omprakash told Mongabay-India. “But neither the mines gave employment, as they bring all their engineers and labour from outside, nor the mines take care of the environment. Now, the villagers are fighting for their health, lives and livelihood as agriculture has also suffered due to these mines.”
Not only Dadam
Aravallis are considered among the oldest mountain ranges in the world. They extend from Gujarat, Rajasthan up to south Haryana before finally ending in Delhi. In Haryana, Aravallis are spread in districts such as Mewat, Faridabad, Gurugram, Mahendragarh and Rewari districts and they are heavily mined due to which they have undergone rapid development and construction activities.
In the last eight years, Gurugram’s Aravallis lost more than 10,000 acres of the Natural Conversation Zone, which is considered to be the greenest area of the city’s forest cover, a recent report submitted to the National Green Tribunal showed.
According to a report, 3,676 sq km and 776.8 sq km (ie, 4.86% and 1.02% of the total Aravalli forest land across the states) were converted into barren land and settlement respectively from 1975 to 2019 and 5,772.7 sq km (7.63%) of forest land has decreased in the Aravallis. The report predicted that in 2059, a total of 16,360.8 sq km (21.64%) of forest land “will be converted to a settlement class”.
A study was conducted to correlate land-use changes and mining activities with surface water bodies in the Faridabad district and observe the changes over the 35 year period, 1970-2006. The study concluded that major changes were observed mostly in areas formerly occupied by vegetation, agriculture, and forest, which were converted into residential use.
It showed that between 1970 and 2006, the urban area increased by 310.8% and mining areas (both legal and illegal) increased by 587.9%, which caused damage to vegetation and surface water. It noted that the excessive withdrawal of water due to mining activity also resulted in a shortage of surface water.
Partik Kumar, who is the coordinator of the Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network, said, “The mining has done an irreversible impact in Haryana.”
“Dadam is just a mirror for other mines,” Kumar told Mongabay-India. “Apart from the Dadam Mining Zone which includes the area of Dadam and Khanak, Dadri and Mahendargarh Mining Zones are also at a similar level. It includes Pichopa Kalan, Atela Kalan, Kaliyana and Mayee villages. In these villages, agriculture has died and people are left without groundwater since mines sucked them all.”
In Haryana’s case, there are several other issues. One of those is ownership and the process of privatisation of land in the Aravallis. In the 1970s, when changes were made to the common land ownership norms, instead of transferring the common land to the forest department, the state government vested them with the village panchayats under the Punjab Village Common Lands Act.
Later during the 1970s-’80s, the revenue department allowed the “transfer of share in common land to the stakeholders”. Thus, the land was apportioned among landowners and sold off at a low price, creating scope for resale of the land to make profits. According to environmentalists, this forms the basis of the privatisation of Aravallis in Haryana, especially around Delhi where the real estate interest continues to be high.
Another issue is regarding the definition of a forest area. The state has also failed to officially notify around 60,000 acres (24,281 hectares) of the Aravallis as the Natural Conversation Zon as per the Regional Plan 2021 of the National Capital Regional Planning Board, formulated in 2005.
The Natural Conversation Zon status allows construction only in 0.5% of the area and its purpose as specified should be “regional recreational activities”. However, without any legal protection, the forests of Aravallis continue to be exploited by the real estate lobby and threatened by deforestation and other developmental activities.
In 2009, the Supreme Court of India had imposed a blanket ban on mining in Haryana after analysing the ecological damage in Haryana. But, in November 2011, the Mines and Geology Department of Haryana issued an auction notice for several mining quarries adjoining Aravallis in the state. In 2013. Dadam was also included.
“Mining is rampant in Haryana despite being the SC ban,” said Partik Kumar. “The state very tactfully gave the mining sites adjoining Aravallis to miners. In such a case, these miners mine in the Aravallis. They do not care for protection zones and forest areas.”
“Even after 10 years of the mining ban, there is no recovery in Aravallis and the situation has been worse,” Kumar said. “The areas of Gurugram and Faridabad are also struggling for water due to this.”
Meanwhile, to everyone’s surprise, despite the rampant destruction in Aravallis due to mining, the Haryana government last year asked for the Supreme Court’s approval to begin mining in the Aravallis in Gurugram and Faridabad.
Anil Kumar, Mining Officer, Gurugram, however, assured that mining has no role in environmental degradation as it is done by taking all the precautions. “We need jobs for local people and resources for the state,” he claimed. “The mining will provide both. The mining will be done in a manner that will not harm the environment.”
Environmentalists, however, disagree. “The Aravallis is a biodiversity hotspot with 400-odd species of trees, shrubs and herbs, 200-odd native and migratory bird species, 100-odd butterfly species, 20-odd reptile species and 20-odd mammal species, including leopards,” Jatinder Bhadana, a local environmentalist told Mongabay-India. “Aravallis recharges the water table as well. But due to mining, now we are witnessing a deep groundwater level, increase in pollution and storms, changing rainfall pattern, drying up of lakes and biodiversity including animals loss.”
“If any further mining is allowed, it will have an irreversible harmful impact on the local ecology,” Bhadana demanded. “The government should stop all types of mining activities and let the hills breathe.”
This article first appeared on Mongabay.