A rescue act

A rescue act

The ban imposed by the Supreme Court on mining in the ecologically sensitive Aravali hills is in line with the active interest the court has taken in environmental matters. Many of the successes of the enviornmental movement in India can be attributed to judicial intervention. The collusion between governments and economic lobbies has ensured that there is hardly any effective executive action on these issues. The case of illegal mining in the Aravali region starkly illustrates this. The Aravali hills, which range from Haryana to Rajasthan, provide a natural barrier against the spread of the Thar desert. But illegal mining for sand, marble and gravel has continued for decades. It has endangered the ecology of the region and threatened the survival of vast agricultural lands. Bans have been imposed in the past too but have not been earnestly implemented.

This time the court has taken the matter most seriously and observed that the Haryana government, which is responsible for the protection of the area, has violated the trust the court had reposed in it. The area adjoins the national capital region of Delhi. Its location in an economically prosperous region makes the illegal mining activity very lucrative.  Therefore any positive action from the government was not to be expected. On an earlier occasion the court had said that the Haryana government was complicit in the loot of the hills and had even threatened to deploy para-military forces to implement its orders. The region has seen lowering of the water table, disappearance of lakes and the spread of the desert as a consequence of illegal mining. Trees were also felled extensively, but no replanting work taken up.  These activities were resorted to without any environmental clearance and reparation plans. The ban will help to restore the natural status of an ecologically fragile area but this will take time. Civil society and environmental groups have been agitating for it  for a number of years. The court has agreed to consider permission for minor mining activity at a future date after examining the working of the ban. But it will have to ensure that such permission is not misused. The nexus between the mining lobby, politicians, officials and anti-social elements is so strong elsewhere also in the country that only constant vigil on the part of society, supported by judicial action, can ensure stoppage of environmental degradation. Illegal mining in such areas should also receive the kind of attention it received in Aravali.

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