The apex court said ecological degradation is so serious that it cannot permit even the smallest mining activity in the region.
In March, the court talked tough and showed 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.
During the March hearing on the matter, amicus curiae Ranjit Kumar explained 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''.
The Bench added, "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.
Chandigarh: Leading conservationists, environmental NGOs and even Haryana's environment minister Friday welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to extend a ban on mining in the state's Aravalli hills, one of the oldest mountain chains in India, saying it would check rampant ecological degradation.
"This verdict would be beneficial not only for Haryana but for the whole country. In fact, I myself was fighting against various individuals and authorities for the ban on mining," Haryana's Minister for Environment and Forests Kiran Chaudhary told IANS.
The Supreme Court Friday extended the ban on mining over a 450 sq km area of the Aravalli hills in the Gurgaon, Faridabad and Mewat districts of Haryana in view of "serious ecological degradation in the area". Large-scale mining is believed to have dried up many lakes in the state, depleted the water table and affected grazing area.
An elated Chaudhary said: "We are steadfast about making Haryana the most eco-friendly state of the country." She has been against the state's mining mafia for a long time.
Noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, who led the novel Chipko movement in the 1970s to salvage the greenery of the Himalayas, told IANS: "This judgment of the Supreme Court is really praiseworthy. We should understand that the primary product of hills is water and all other products or resources that we get from there are secondary things."
He added: "There was a drought-like situation in various places in Haryana due to this excessive mining at Aravali hills."
"At present a water crisis is prevailing all over the world and mankind should wake up from its slumber to save our depleting resources. Like in the Himalayas, where there is a ban on mining and on cutting trees, similar regulations should be implemented in all other places of the country," Bahuguna said.
Said Parmod Sharma, coordinator of Yuvsatta, an NGO working for environment in the region: "Mindless mining at Aravalli hills has led to various ecological imbalances and dried up many famous water bodies of the area."
"The water resources of the region are drying up rapidly and the green belts have also been converted into virtual deserts."
Mining in the Aravalli hills had been going on for decades, largely due to political patronage from the powers that be in the state and central government. The northern end of the vast Aravalli ranges extends to Faridabad district in Haryana, around 300 km from here.
"Continuous mining in the Aravallis has caused a drought-like situation in the region and a sharp decline in the water table. Many beautiful lakes and water bodies have dried up and there is no grass left for the animals to graze on," said Rohit Ruhella, another environmentalist.
"There were times when the famous lakes Badkal, Damdama and Dhauj were prominent tourist spots, but now they have dried up and nobody goes there. Even after the expiry of the mining lease, it was stealthily going on at Sirohi and Khori Jamalpur mines in the area," said Ruhella.
Extending the ban on mining, first imposed in May 2002, the Supreme Court bench, which included Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, said it does not favour resuming mining of "major minerals" like silica, manganese and other metallic and non-metallic ores, available at a depth roughly below the water table in the area as that further depletes the water table.
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