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Encroachments, Mining Continue Unabated in Aravallis Amid Panademic, Lockdown

Sumedha Pal |
Activists and residents fear erosion of green cover of vulnerable forest stretch of the Aravallis owing to the state’s insistence on mining and continuation of entry of private players in the sensitive eco zones.
Encroachments, Mining Continue Unabated in Aravallis Amid Panademic, Lockdown

Image Courtesy: India Today

Amid the raging pandemic and the resultant lockdowns, mining activity and encroachments continued in the Aravalli range on the outskirts of the Capital, despite protests and multiple appeals by local residents and activists to protect the region’s biodiversity.

Last month, a wall surfaced over a one-acre area in the Aravallis in Faridabad district. In March this year, a little over 25 acres of forest land in Ankhir village under the Faridabad forest division was encroached upon, said officials.

The common thread among these instances is the fact that the land in question is under special Sections 4 and 5 of the Punjab Land Preservation Act, which extends protection against land use change to certain specified Aravalli areas and forests and trees.

Now, activists allege that rampant construction is going on unchecked in the protected forest belt, mainly by private players.

The settlements coming up on the green cover has left activists and residents worried over the erosion of forest cover and loss of flora and fauna in the region.

A new instance has surfaced wherein guards employed by real estate major, DLF, showed up in one of the forest stretches lining Sun City and Golf Course Road.

Rahul Khera, a member of the Aravalli Bachao campaign, said: “There is a huge forest stretch between Park View and Sun City area. Earlier, too, DLF guards had shunned us away stating that the land belonged to DLF, however we did not encounter this again. However, this has resurfaced. We were stopped by the guards on account of it being private property.” 

He added: “From the marking stones and our conversations with the guards, we know that the area could be close to 100 acres.” 

minning

Image credits--Rahul Khera, Twitter.

The encroachments are triggering fears about of private players making further inroads into the green belt with the Haryana government pushing for developmental projects and mining activity. The land holds special status under Forest Conservation Act. 

Read More: Bandhwari Waste-to Energy Plant Triggers Protests in Gurugram

What’s especially worrisome, say activists, is the active push for amending the Punjab Land Preservation (Haryana Amendment) Act (PLPA). The government has worked actively toward opening up thousands of acres in the mountain ranges for real estate development and mining. The amendment is still pending as the Supreme Court had sharply rebuked the Haryana government for trying to “destroy the forests''.

Aravalli Bachao, a citizens’ group, had written to the Haryana government demanding clearance of the illegal encroachments in the region. However, it is yet to receive a response.

January 31, 2021, was the deadline given by NGT (National Green Tribunal) to clear all illegal encroachments in Aravallis in Gurgaon and Faridabad. But the administration has done nothing. The ground reality is that illegal encroachments have increased over the last year, since COVID began. While people have been locked up in their homes, the land mafia has been clearing our forests and are building on land protected under the PLPA in blatant disregard of the law,” said Chandra Mouli Basu from Aravalli Bachao Citizens Movement.

Baus alleged: “In Ankhir village in Faridabad Aravallis, despite FIRs being lodged, no action has been taken by the administration on these illegal encroachments. Illegal mining has also been going on rampantly in different areas and entire hills are vanishing. At this rate, Aravallis will soon be read about in history books and NCR cities will become unlivable with our critical water recharge zone, green lungs and shield against desertification destroyed."

Not just encroachments, unchecked mining activity has also increased in the region amid state’s impunity, allege activists and residents.

 The Haryana government had appealed to the Supreme Court to permit it to resume mining in the Aravalli Hills on the grounds that the pandemic had brought the state’s economy to a halt. 

A few members of the Aravalli Bachao Citizens Group visited four different locations in Gurugram and Faridabad Aravallis in the end of March and early April 2021 to evaluate the situation on the ground.

In contempt of the orders of the Supreme Court banning mining in Haryana Aravallis,  the team found rampant illegal mining taking place across areas of  Pandala hills in Gurugram, Damdama hills near Kot village, area behind Aravali Pathways school near Tikli village in Gurugram and Lake Bhardwaj in the Faridabad Aravallis. 

“Illegal sand and stone mining in Haryana Aravallis has not stopped for a day, even during the lockdown in 2020. Even in Aravalli areas which are not easily accessible, there are tractor trails for vehicles to illegally carry back truckloads of all kinds of stone during the night and early morning. Sand mining is at an all-time high on camelback in places like Bhardwaj Lake. Despite the ban on mining by the Supreme Court in Haryana Aravallis, damage done from illegal mining is clearly visible in the Aravalli belts of Pandala, Damdama, Sehjawas, Ghamroj, Mangar, Asola Bhatti etc.,” said Gaurav Sarup, a regular walker in the Aravallis.

Activists have demanded an increased number of forest check posts and guards patrolling the Aravalli forests and use of drones purchased by the forest department for Rs 20 lakh for surveillance to stop illegal mining and encroachment activities. 

The Aravalli mountain ranges—is 700 kilometer long range  starting from Gujarat, spreading across Rajasthan and Haryana.  Out of this, Gurugram alone has 11,256 hectares. The ranges are a key barrier against the Thar desert, protecting Delhi and other urban spaces and villages across Haryana However, mining, deforestation and encroachment have wreaked havoc with it.

Despite several court orders--real estate and private players have shown big interest in the region. It is noteworthy that Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali group acquired over 400 acres in Haryana’s Aravalli region in Faridabad district. The transactions for large-scale forest land took place between 2014 and 2016, said a report in the Business Standard, noting that the acquired land was “common land” or shamlat deh. The firm did so by floating dubious smaller firms that tricked the residents into selling their lands, the report alleged.

The legal benefit and the ignorance of the state toward illegal construction activities have helped companies like Patanjali expand their shares and land processions.

Moreover, the Haryana government’s compliance in terms of weakening land protection laws, such as the PLPA, and the move to keep out over a thousand acres of ecologically sensitive land in the Aravallis is likely to be left out of the National Conservation Zone (NCZ) by the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Haryana government. Approximately, 1126.8 acres– spread across the Aravallis – fall under the ambit of Faridabad's Kot villages.

Read More: Haryana Govt Seeks Court Approval for Mining in Aravallis as Resistance Mounts

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