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Aravalli miners flout apex court ban

Jaipur, Dec. 4: Mining continues on the Aravalli range in Rajasthan and Haryana despite a Supreme Court ban as the state governments are not in a position to bear the loss of revenue from the sector, official sources said.

However, the departments concerned in the states have directed their district offices to ensure that quarrying in forest areas are stopped immediately.

On October 30, the Supreme Court had directed the chief secretaries of the states to “ensure that no mining activity in the Aravalli Hills is carried out, especially in that part which has been regarded as forest area or protected under the Environment (Protection) Act”.

Rajasthan has moved a petition in the Supreme Court, requesting it to review its order. The petition is listed for hearing tomorrow, said state mining secretary Rakesh Verma.

Rajasthan, it is learnt, has acted at the instance of the captains of the mining industry, who convinced the government to take the lead in the matter by filing the review petition.

On the other hand, chairman of the Institute of Environment Education & Sustainable Development in Jaipur M.L. Jhanwar has written to Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, who was part of the bench that ordered the ban, welcoming the court’s move and rubbishing the government’s claim that it stands to lose revenue worth Rs 300 crore. He has said that according to an estimate, if illegal mining is stopped, revenue should go up to Rs 1,500 crore.

The institute, which has studied the impact of mining in four forested belts of the Aravallis, has shown that illegal mining and illegal practices in legal mining (allotted by the state government) were rampant in connivance with five government departments — mining, forest, revenue, commercial taxation and police. Every day Rs 50,000-1,00,000 were paid as bribe to officials of these departments.

The money collected by officials on the ground level reached every strata. Hardly one truck among 10 transporting illegally mined products is caught to complete a formality.

Illegal mining practices that flout all environment and labour laws are rampant in the Aravallis, leading to environmental degradation. Jhanwar has urged the Supreme Court to keep his studies, sponsored by funding and research bodies of either the Central or state government, in mind while disposing of the Rajasthan government’s review petition.

He has pointed out that the Aravallis is the lifeline of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat as it controls the climate and drainage system. Any activity that depletes the forest cover and disturbs the water table would lead to drought and famine, particularly affecting the tribals.

Dense forest has depleted by 90 per cent over the past 20 years since largescale mining began. When the mines reach below the underground water level, a cone of depression is formed that sucks water from the surrounding areas, drying up wells and affecting agriculture.

Unscientific and illegal mining in the Rajnagar belt has pushed the water table down so deep that the famous Rajsamand Lake in Udaipur has dried up for the first time in 300 years, affecting farmers downstream, Jhanwar pointed out.

The studies, all supervised by Jhanwar, have shown that the labourers are not provided any health care. Lung diseases like tuberculosis and silicosis are common, reducing the labourers to invalids or killing them by the time they are 40. Child labour constitutes 10 to 15 per cent of the workforce and women workers 30 to 40 per cent, and their condition is the worst.

Jhanwar said the larger part — 700 km — of the 900-km Aravalli range that traverses Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan falls in the desert state. There are 10,000 to 15,000 mine owners employing over 70,000 workers. While the labourers work under inhuman conditions as bonded labour, the beneficiaries are the mine owners, the political leaders and the bureaucrats, he said.

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