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Delhi sits on ecological minefield

The desert is closer to Delhi than you imagined. Indiscriminate mining in the Aravalli hills,mainly around Gurgaon and Faridabad...

Written by Neha Sinha | New Delhi |
May 10, 2009 12:20:00 am

Day after SC ban,experts say Aravalli mining taking toll on city ecosystem

The desert is closer to Delhi than you imagined.

Indiscriminate mining in the Aravalli hills,mainly around Gurgaon and Faridabad,are leading to what experts call creeping desertification of areas that were earlier basins for water and home to trees.

Delhi itself is testimony to the ravages of mining: some of the deepest mined pits in the Capital’s Aravalli belt,now in Vasant Vihar’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park,will take years of effort before they can sustain normal ecosystems again.

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“Twenty-two channels of water were coming from the area and falling into the Yamuna,” ecologist Faiyaz Khudsar,who is working on reviving native Yamuna ecosystems in Wazirabad,says. “All these have dried up due to degradation in the Aravalli ecosystem. Now these are only sewer channels.”

This,he says,means that even the Yamuna has suffered.

CR Babu,professor emeritus,Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems,says: “Mining leads to desertification. Delhi sits on the Aravalli belt and mining in the adjoining Aravalli areas has led to overall loss of moisture through the loss of trees that retain water for underground reservoirs. Mining also creates dust — Delhi is susceptible now not only to dust storms from Rajasthan but also from the Haryana side.

“In the rocky Aravalli mountains,the exposure of barren rock also means that the area heats up quicker. Effectively,therefore,heavy mining without re-plantation means the creation of a desert.”

In Delhi,the deepest mined pit in the Aravallis is 90 feet below ground level — it lies in the Aravalli Biodiversity Park and is an ecological disaster. The pit was supposed to be turned into a moist forest as part of a DDA-sponsored project before next year’s Commonwealth Games. However,experts say it will take decades to recover.

“This pit is narrow from the top,stretching to about 150 feet,so there is some moisture retention inside it,” Dr M Shah Husain from the biodiversity park says. He says only an “exotic invasive species”,Vilayati Kikar,grows here. “We have now planted grasses there to create humus for top soil but it will take around 25 years to convert this pit into a moist forest.”

Husain says nurturing the native ecosystems of Aravalli is very important because “only then will the forest perform normal services,like retaining water”.

The Supreme Court,while banning mining in Faridabad and Gurgaon districts on Friday,also asked for statutory provisions for “restoration and reclamation” of mined areas.

Experts say complete devastation by mining is not a result of just quarrying but also a result of dumping debris around the sites. “Mining in these areas has led to a loss of top soil,and dumping of debris has completely stopped any regeneration,” Shah says. “This area is rocky and has a low watertable. So specific attention needs to be given to reclaiming the area.”

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First published on: 10-05-2009 at 12:20:00 am

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