The moun­tain of life stands bar­ren now

Large tracts of one of the old­est moun­tain ranges have been dam­aged by in­dis­crim­i­nate min­ing. Peo­ple liv­ing in over 200 vil­lages in the re­gion say for­est pro­duce and lakes have dried up and dis­eases have spread

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Metro - Ab­hishek Behl ab­hishek.behl@hin­dus­tan­times.com

GUR­GAON: Life in the lap of Aravallis used to be sim­ple, says 80-yearold Chandi Pe­hal­wan, a res­i­dent of Pali vil­lage in Faridabad. “Peo­ple from vil­lages in Ya­muna catch­ment area would send their cat­tle here be­fore mon­soon and get wheat and jag­gery in re­turn,” he re­calls.

In the last two decades, how­ever, Pe­hal­wan’s vil­lage, like many oth­ers in the re­gion, has un­der­gone a sea change. Large tracts of Aravallis, that once pro­vided vil­lagers nec­es­sary means of sus­te­nance, now stand bar­ren. Vil­lage economies that thrived on ex­change of cat­tle, grains and for­est pro­duce have col­lapsed and the age-old eco­log­i­cal balance of the re­gion stands shaken.

Around 240 vil­lages in the Aravalli range, mainly in­hab­ited by clans of Gu­j­jars, aban­doned cat­tle graz­ing and agri­cul­ture for min­ing in the 90s. Though the busi­ness brought money and pros­per­ity, it was banned by the Supreme Court in 2002 due to its dis­as­trous eco­log­i­cal im­print. Dr Gopal Kr­is­han from Na­tional In­sti­tute of Hy­drol­ogy, Roor­kee, said min­ing dam­aged the ecol­ogy of Aravallis as it led to de­for­esta­tion and de­cline in wa­ter qual­ity.

“The built up area in­creased in the Aravallis. The lakes that were filled with wa­ter in about 45 hectares van­ished. Agri­cul­tural land was di­verted to min­ing and re­duced along with veg­e­ta­tion,” said Dr Kr­is­han, who along with Naval Kishore and Deepa Nathalia, con­ducted a sur­vey in 2015 about the eco­log­i­cal im­pact of min­ing. The sur­vey found that the sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship of the vil­lagers with the Aravallis was shat­tered with the advent of min­ing and the con­se­quent ban on it crushed the vil­lagers.

THE TRANS­FOR­MA­TION

There are around 90 vil­lages in Gur­gaon and Faridabad that are lo­cated in core Aravalli hills and an­other 150 in the foothills and catch­ment ar­eas. Dur­ing nearly one-and-a-half decades of min­ing, vil­lagers turned into trans­porters, con­trac­tors, and labour sup­pli­ers. Vil­lage economies changed overnight and ev­ery fam­ily in the core min­ing area de­vel­oped a stake in the in­dus­try.

Be­fore the on­set of min­ing, around 30% of the pop­u­la­tion was en­gaged in an­i­mal hus­bandry, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey in 2015. “Dur­ing our grow­ing up days I re­call peo­ple tak­ing cat­tle daily to the hills. There was plenty of grass, tree leaves, and other for­est pro­duce,” said Ji­ten­der Bhadana, founder Save Aravallis, an NGO.

The re­gion sup­plied milk to Faridabad, and even as far as Delhi. For­est pro­duce such as Dhak, Ber and Krail was sold. Chandi Pehlawan said ev­ery­thing com­ing from ‘Pa­har’ was once uti­lized. “All these things have now van­ished,” he said.

As their wealth in­creased with the min­ing busi­ness, vil­lagers scaled-up their life­style. “Most of the youth left ed­u­ca­tion for a job or con­tract in the min­ing sec­tor. Peo­ple built swanky houses, bought trucks, took huge loans, ev­ery house had a lux­ury car,” said Ga­jraj Bhadana, a res­i­dent of Pali. Bhadana lost his job af­ter gov­ern­ment banned min­ing and the Haryana for­est depart­ment took con­trol of the for­est land, im­pos­ing strict con­trols on eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in the hills.

A sur­vey in 2015 — ti­tled ‘So­cio-Eco­nomic change im­pact af­ter the clo­sure of min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties; A case study of Aravalli Hills of Faridabad Dis­trict, Haryana’ — re­vealed that in 2002 al­most 35 to 40% peo­ple were en­gaged in min­ing in core ar­eas. The study was con­ducted by Dr Gopal Kr­is­han, Deepa Nathalia and Naval Kishore from Na­tional In­sti­tute of Hy­drol­ogy, Roor­kee, and Depart­ment of Ge­ol­ogy, Pan­jab Univer­sity, Chandi­garh.

Al­most 90% vil­lage youth did not study be­yond Class 10th dur­ing this pe­riod. Less than 1% youth were found to be grad­u­ates in core min­ing vil­lages, whereas only 5% had cleared Class 12, the sur­vey re­vealed.

Many vil­lagers had even taken loans to buy dumpers and min­ing equip­ment. The loans have now turned a li­a­bil­ity as the work has stopped and in­comes have dwin­dled, the sur­vey found.

POST MIN­ING ERA

Ban on min­ing had a ma­jor fall out as in­comes dropped and sources of em­ploy­ment dried up.

Fam­i­lies that had gained power and pelf dur­ing the min­ing boom saw a sharp de­cline in for­tunes. “The Mercedes cars are gath­er­ing dust and the SUVs are dif­fi­cult to ser­vice, but who will bell the cat and change the mind­set,” said Bhadana.

Over 300 youth in Pali and Pakhal vil­lages alone are now strug­gling to get mar­ried as there is no sus­tain­able source of in­come, says Bhadana. “The boys did not fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion, their par­ents never thought that min­ing could stop one day. The sit­u­a­tion is same across the hills,” said Ho­ram Singh Bhadana, a re­tired school prin­ci­pal, who lives in Pawta.

Land­hold­ing, con­sid­ered a big source of in­come in Delhi-NCR, also suf­fered due to min­ing ban as peo­ple had to sell off their land to fi­nance their life­style. The 2015 sur­vey re­vealed that al­most 48 per cent vil­lagers had a hold­ing of 2 acres to 5 acres in 2002, which dropped by 30 per cent in 2015.

Less than 18% now earn more than 15,000 per month, a num­ber that was much higher dur­ing the min­ing years, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. The num­ber of peo­ple who owned four wheel­ers in 2002 also went down in 2015 indi­cat­ing that the sources of in­come have largely dried up.

The ban on min­ing has, how­ever, some­what stemmed the degra­da­tion of Aravallis. Some also claim that a num­ber of health ail­ments — such hear­ing loss, lung dis­eases, re­s­pi­ra­tory is­sues, asthma, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and skin al­ler­gies — have gone down. But wa­ter pol­lu­tion caused by min­ing has en­sured that wa­ter borne dis­eases like malaria, cholera, bone prob­lems and gas­tric prob­lems con­tinue. “There has been con­sid­er­able in­crease in dis­eases caused by wa­ter pol­lu­tion. Air pol­lu­tion also con­tin­ues due to op­er­a­tion of crush­ing zone,” said Ho­ram Singh Bhadana.

The so­lu­tion to these prob­lems, lo­cals say, is in not treat­ing the ‘Pa­har’ as source of end­less in­come. “This hill is our mother and it should be treated with re­spect. It needs to be saved if Delhi, Gur­gaon and Faridabad have to sur­vive as it is a store­house of oxy­gen and wa­ter. It also pro­tects us from de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion,” said Ji­ten­der Bhadana.

SAN­JEEV VERMA/HT PHOTO

Around 240 vil­lages in the Aravalli range, mainly in­hab­ited by clans of Gu­j­jars, aban­doned cat­tle graz­ing and agri­cul­ture for min­ing in the 90s. Though the busi­ness brought money and pros­per­ity, it was banned by the Supreme Court in 2002 due to its dis­as­trous eco­log­i­cal im­print.

SAN­JEEV VERMA/HT PHOTO

Af­ter the on­set of min­ing, the built up area in the Aravallis in­creased.

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