Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 11, Dated Mar 21, 2009
Mining continues despite a Supreme Court ban.
NEHA DIXIT goes undercover to find out who is
doing it, and why they are getting away with it
SAVE THE Aravallis: a slogan that
like so many others stirs little response
until the cost of ignoring
it hits home: no electricity, no
water, no construction material and, worst
of all, no rain and the daytime temperature
perpetually above 50 degrees Celsius.
|Trucks continue to overload stone from mines and crushing zones unchecked
The Aravallis are the oldest mountain
range in the world and they are all that
stands between Delhi and the desert,
buffering the National Capital Region
(NCR) against the advance of the Thar
and holding down the monsoon as it
sweeps over the northern plains. However,
indiscriminate stone quarrying and
illegal construction in forest area are
ravaging the range every day. If matters
proceed on their present course, Delhi
will be a desert in 40 years.
Litigation against mining in the Aravallis
has been heard in the Supreme
Court for the last 14 years, but it was on
February 5, 2009 that the court ordered
a ban, until the next hearing, on mining,
stone crushing, construction and land
sale in the area.
TEHELKA, in its visit to the range, found
that all these activities were continuing
unchecked, with the police hand-in-glove
with the violators.
VIOLATION 1: PROJECTION OF A FAKE
The Central Empowered Committee
(CEC), a group of eminent environmentalists,
bureaucrats and experts, procured
high-resolution satellite images of
the Faridabad district Aravallis during
January and May 2008. This was done to
ascertain village-wise land use and to
assess the hills’ greenbelt. Out of 23 of
the district’s villages, 15 lie in areas notified under the Punjab Land Preservation
Act (PLPA). As for the greenbelt, the CEC
found that 134 mines, notified by the
Supreme Court under the PLPA, were
operating within it or in its vicinity.
Ways, however, are found of circumventing
inspection even by satellite imaging.
TEHELKA found huge stretches of
land around the Sirohi mine covered
with green cloth — in satellite pictures,
the area looks like it is in the greenbelt.
VIOLATION 2: ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION AND
SALE OF FOREST LAND
The CEC found a large number of
colonies, farm houses and public buildings
ranging from banquet halls to
schools and ashrams in the notified area.
Construction here has not only meant
the decimation of forests, but it also
interferes with the natural passage of
rain. The CEC recommended the demolition
of all illegal structures, and sought to
have the rehabilitation of the area taken
up by the state of Haryana in a timebound
manner, with no sale of land
permitted and permissions revoked for
all non-forestry use of notified land.
TEHELKA has a copy of a letter dated
August 29, 2007, written by Forest Conservator
South Block RP Balwan to
Deputy Forest Conservator G Raman that
makes note of the gross violation of the
Forest Conservation Act and the PLPA in
the Aravallis. It also lists various groups
that have razed forest cover for construction
purposes. These include RPS Colonisers,
Kenwood City, Lakewood City, MLA
Kartaar Singh Bhadana, Anandvan
Colonisers, the Muthoot Group and
Green Valley. Omaxe Group, the owner of
‘The Forest’ colony, has been accused not only of felling trees and carrying out construction
despite the court order, but also
of illegal quarrying and usurping forestland.
The letter also says that since the
Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed
the Haryana Urban Development
Authority to return the money to all plot
owners in Sectors 44 and 47 in Faridabad,
the area was forestland and construction
here was illegal. No action was taken on
At this point, it must be noted that according
to a court order dated May 10,
1996, there should be a 200m greenbelt
near Surajkund and Badkhal lakes. These
were the area’s only natural water bodies;
both are even found mentioned in the Mahabharata. Unchecked mining in their
vicinity resulted in their complete disappearance
Posing as a potential buyer, TEHELKA
visited colonisers in the prohibited zone
and found that there were no signs of a
greenbelt. Instead, unabashed land sale
and construction continues.
Location 1: The Forest, Omaxe Group,
Surajkund, Delhi NCR.
TEHELKA: I like the
are the rates?
Dealer: Here is the
rate list. Bank loans
are also available.
about the Supreme
Dealer: Supreme Court mentions [land
under] Sections 4 and 5 of the PLPA as notified
area, which is forest area. This area
does not fall under those sections.
TEHELKA: But now the Supreme Court
has asked for construction to be stopped.
Dealer:That is for areas under Sections 4
and 5 of the PLPA, not this. See the area
around this place is notified.
Here you can do anything.
TEHELKA: Okay, this is not.
Dealer: This has a proper
address: Faridabad Sector 43. Don’t worry.
TEHELKA: The Supreme Court has also
banned mining, isn’t it?
Dealer: That is for commercial use. Not
Location 2: Vashisht Associates,
Sector 21-D, Faridabad
TEHELKA: What is the rate of land here?
Dealer: Depends on the location.
TEHELKA: Where is land available?
Dealer: [Sectors] 21A, B and C
TEHELKA: And here in 46 and 47?
Dealer: There are a few in 46. There is one
100-yard plot available in Sector 47.
TEHELKA: How much will it cost?
Dealer: Around Rs 40-45 lakhs. The rate
here according to the government is Rs
6,000 per yard so according to that Rs six
lakh will be required for registry and the
rest in black.
TEHELKA: Okay. And the Supreme Court
banned construction and all in the area.
That isn’t a problem, is it?
Dealer: See, the place where you are
sitting right now was also prohibited. But
we built it very recently. There is no problem
in Sectors 46 and 47 — even though
it’s prohibited, nothing will happen.
Dealer: Earlier also, the Supreme Court
had banned construction near Badkhal
Lake. But construction took place. See,
the thing is even if the court orders, nobody
comes for inspecting anything.
What will they do? Will they demolish
these big apartments?
TEHELKA: You are sure there will not be
any Supreme Court problem, because we
are in a hurry to build our house.
Dealer: There is no problem anywhere, except in the part you are sitting in
TEHELKA: So people have started staying
in apartments nearby in spite of the ban?
TEHELKA: Isn’t that a problem?
Dealer: Nothing will happen. Banks are
also giving loans for these properties.
TEHELKA: I read in the papers that some
supervisors came for inspection recently.
Dealer: See, there is ban on Omaxe also,
but construction is still on. Nothing can
happen to those who have power. The supervisor
banned some 164 places but construction
is still on. All can be managed
with money. The administration itself is
facilitating all this.
TEHELKA: Are you the owner of this place?
Dealer: No, I work here. The owner is JM
Vashisht. He was the SHO at the Badkhal
Lake Police Station. He has retired now.
VIOLATION 3: CRUSHERS AT WORK
DESPITE STATUS QUO
According to the Supreme Court order of
February 3, 2009 all crushers were to be
removed from the crushing zone by February
5, 2009. When TEHELKA visited the
Sirohi and Khori Jamalpur mines, which
have been operating in defiance of the
apex court’s 2002 order, we saw overloaded
trucks carrying stones from the
mines outside. Crushers were at work in
the crushing zones. Blasting in the mines was also on. Speaking to a crusher agency
owner, a nexus of the authorities and the
mining leaseholders was revealed.
DD Gupta, M/s Shiv Grit Udyog, Sirohi
TEHELKA: We are doing a campaign on
how labourers have lost their jobs
following the closure of the mines. Some
alternative should be provided by the government.
How much loss are you incurring everyday?
Agency owner: See, even if the government
has imposed a ban, we have to pay
for the basics, electricity, maintenance etc.
TEHELKA: So, how much loss will you
incur per month?
Owner: At least two lakh per month.
Moreover, we have a bank loan and used
our personal money also. Apart from that,
if the crusher zone is banned, our machines
will be stolen.
TEHELKA: How long have you been operating
Owner: Five years.
TEHELKA: So you didn’t know that there
could be a problem here — the first
Supreme Court intervention was in 2002.
Owner: No. The Haryana Government
should have thought about the future
while making this the crushing zone. The
CM should have warned us, not fooled us.
This zone was planned in 2001, plots were given out in 2003. When the SC had already
intervened, why did they allot plots
for crushing? But who will fight with the
government, one individual can’t do it.
TEHELKA: What about the bid that didn’t
Owner: They have increased the bid
amount to such an extent. Earlier, it was
Rs four crore for seven years. Now it’s
Rs 110 crore for two years. Who will bid
for such an amount?
TEHELKA: What can be the reason for
this? Could it be that since minerals here
are close to exhaustion in the next two
years, the Haryana Government is trying
to earn as much as possible?
Owner: Then why did they give it for so
little last time? The mining leaseholder
here, Sethi, is earning at least a crore daily
from here. Where this money is shared,
only they know. A single person was given
the contract for the entire mining area. He
had his monopoly.
TEHELKA: Sethi has a lot of support from
the Haryana Government.
Owner: Anyone who has money can
manage. He can control the SC order also. He has bribed the Supreme Court judges
also. They should ideally have divided the
mining area into four blocks and given it
to four different people. There would
have been competition, which would
have lowered the cost of stone and therefore
the construction cost. Now it’s his
will. He decides the rate. If you want it,
take it at his rate. Moreover, the royalty
he takes is Rs 160 per tonne, much higher
than the government rate. The other
thing is why didn’t the Supreme Court
think about the groundwater when the
water was pumped out round the clock
and wasted to extract silica? Everybody
accepted bribes in crores and kept quiet
then. Now there is a hue and cry.
TEHELKA: There were deputy commissioners
Owner: There was one deputy commisioner.
It was in her time that all these
builders started colonising. When you acquire
land, you do it with the help of the
commissioner, isn’t it? Her husband is also
a builder, I don’t know much about him.
It is crucial to note that apart from
being in contempt of court, the state government
is suffering a loss of revenue.
Mining lease holders collect arbitrary
charges — the present rate of royalty they
pay is Rs 24 per tonne, but what they collect
can go up to Rs 140-160. If multiplied
by the number of trucks crossing the
check post daily, the figures run into several
VIOLATION 4: MINING MATERIAL
TRANSPORTED DESPITE SC ORDERS
As per the Supreme Court’s orders, no
transportation of stones is to be allowed.
TEHELKA caught trucks on spycam regularly
crossing the tax collection point. Although
people in the area knew that their
movement was banned, the police insisted
that there was no such restriction.
Tax collection point, Khori Jamalpur
TEHELKA: The Supreme Court has
stopped mining activities, so why are the
Tax collector: Illegal activities are still
happening. Truckers with minerals just
run past the tax collection point.
Ishwar Singh, Asst. Sub-Inspector,
Khori Jamalpur police station
TEHELKA: Truckers are constantly passing
even when they are banned by the
Ishwar Singh: Who said? It’s allowed by
the Supreme Court.
VIOLATION 5: GROUND WATER EXPOSED
AND LEFT TO EVAPORATE. ENVIRONMENT
MANAGEMENT PLAN NOT FOLLOWED
The Aravallis are composed of nonporous
rock. Since it cannot hold water,
ground water collects in cracks and joints
in the rocks. Keeping this in mind, the
apex court ordered that the depth of
mining be restricted to three metres
above the water table. Silica, or bajri,
which is in great demand for construction,
is found under the water table. To
extract it, miners pump out ground water
until they can extract the mineral. The
water, however, is left abandoned, leading
to the evaporation of 8,86,891 cubic
metres of ground water every year. According
to NGO Shakti Vahini, there are
68 exposed water bodies in the range; in
the area TEHELKA visited, we found such
water bodies at every 20 feet.
The Central Ground Water Board
categorically states that the ground water
table in the Aravallis is falling dangerously.
It is already at a critical stage in Faridabad,
where its over-exploitation rate is at 89.02
percent; the figure for Gurgaon is 124
percent. Since the area’s surface water
potential is not promising, ground water is
the only source of drinking water here. If
its depletion is not controlled, the situation
will lead to a survival crisis.
According to a Supreme Court order
of May 10, 1995, each mining lease-holder
should follow an Environment Management
plan that includes afforestation, reduction
of noise and pollution and the
rehabilitation of mines after they are exhausted.
TEHELKA has a copy of the reply
of the Haryana Control Board and the
Central Pollution Control Board, which
clearly states that the mine lease holders
do not need to follow an Environment
Management Plan, since they are minor
mines. Something that is false.
Government complacency and its
Says RP Balwan, Forest Conservator, Gurgaon,
“Illegal mining in the Aravallis is depriving
poor farmers of their employment
by denying them natural sources of water
for farming.” Over the last three years
alone, the mineral reserves of five stone
mines in Mewat have been exhausted.
The only two mines left in the region will
be exhausted in the next two years.
Haryana Environment Minister Kiran
Chowdhary chooses to pass the buck. She
says, “I am only concerned with forest
land and environment. Checking illegal
mining is not under my department. If
there are violators, we will take action and
inform the Supreme Court about it.” Despite
the enormous evidences of illegal
mining practises, visible to the naked eye,
the mining lease holder of the only two
mines in the range, Somdutt Sethi, is confident.
“I haven’t flouted any rules. I will
prove it in the Supreme Court,” he declares.
Consequently, the CEC, which had
given some very strong recommendations
to the Supreme Court, has also gone into
helpless mode. Says ADN Rao, counsel,
CEC, “If the SC does not take strong steps,
the Aravallis will be gone. What can be
done? We all will face the consequences of
an irreversible man-made disaster.”