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The Aravallis Purchased

The destruction of the natural beauty, the ecosystems and the majesty of the mountains affect us in ways we’re not even aware of. Every time a mountain is beheaded, we chop off a little part of our souls.

The Aravalli mountain range that spans four states, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, was never a continuous chain, but mining and construction activities have made it even more damaged and full of cracks and crevices. Out of the 128 hillocks of Alwar district in Rajasthan that were sampled from the total 2,269, it was discovered that 31 of those have vanished from the time the Survey of India topographic sheets were prepared, back in 1967-68 says the CEC report. These gaps were recorded by satellite images and were also verified on the ground.

The erosion is also evident by the noticeable loss in the forest cover as most of the mountain land is now under construction, be it of roads, buildings or railway lines. Bringing in the statistics – earlier the forest cover in Rajasthan was more than 10,000 km compared to the data now available, which has remarked a huge downfall, just 6,000 km! The Aravallis are subject to heavy mining in areas under the state of Haryana and Gujarat, which also is affecting the groundwater levels in areas of Gurugram.

Moreover, these mountains no longer provide fodder and human settlements have increased by a large margin in the Aravallis nearly by ‘158%’ from 1980 to 2016. New roads are being built, even though there are decent roads already, just to raise the value of the property!

There was a time when the Aravallis across Rajasthan provided rich habitat to wildlife – tigers, leopards, wolves, blackbucks, Indian gazelle, desert fox, the great Indian bustard, migratory cranes, ducks, coots and pelicans. But now only the relicts are found and that though at places like Ranthambhore, Sariska and Kumbhalgarh only in Rajasthan.

Residential colonies, temples and other holy places of worship, university campuses, hotels etc have been set up on the mountains, making them totally eroded and more like the plains.

The construction of roads in the Aravallis is associated with landslides, shooting boulders or frequent rock fall causing traffic blockade and fatality on road sides. A research work was conducted and the spatial analysis of the data from the Aravallis’ terrain found a geometrical pattern of landslides, categorized as shallow and local types. The analysis concluded that the elevation, slope, profile geometry of road sections and hill cuts length play a very huge role in causing landslides. The relationship explained defined the road side hill cuts status under landslide sensitive category.

The TOI quoted – An entire Aravali hillock has been flattened to build an approach road for farm houses being constructed in Bandhwari, around 1.5km off the Gurugram-Faridabad road. It’s the second disappearance of a hill in the Gurugram section of the ranges to come to light since 2018, the same year when the Supreme Court had learned that one-fourth of the Aravali hills in neighbouring Rajasthan were gone forever.

With earthmovers toiling away, water lines, tall perimeter walls and gated compounds already set up, the devastation of the hills here already happens to be irreversible.

Also, in December 2018, TOI had reported that an entire hillock had made way in Raisina village for a sprawling farmhouse. Investigations were ordered subsequently, but unfortunately the damage had already been done. Aravalis need particularly close monitoring because of the weird and prohibited nature of land ownership that largely rests with private owners even as construction is restricted. One of the most corrupt administrations is in Gurgaon which has completely no regard for the ecology.

There are a lot of negatives associated to construction of roads, be it wherever. Roads occupy land resources and form barriers for the animals. They can also cause severe impacts on natural resources like water and on discharge areas. The most damaging effects of road construction include noise, dust and vibrations. These roads entail a very complex engineering effort as they can cause a lot of environmental damage. They can lead to devastation of forests and soil and they also require a high-cost construction.

The percent damage to forest areas was found out to be such: on steep terrain – 21% of the trees were harmed by excavators and 33% by bulldozers during forest road construction. On very steep terrain – 27% of the trees were destroyed by excavators and 44% were damaged by bulldozers during forest road construction.

Adding on, large areas of forests are destroyed during road construction which not just results in economic losses, but also changes the conditions of the environment near and in that surrounding. According to a study, it has been found out that bark insects can easily cause epidemics on those trees which are damaged by stones and rocks, and that various types of fungi and other harmful organisms destroy 50% of first class timber trees.

So we found out a few solutions on the net. In mountainous areas, clearing of trees should be kept to a minimum to prevent soil erosion. When working close to waterways, it is necessary to take precautions to prevent sediment from washing into streams. Preventative measures may include installation of silt traps or silt screens. Forest road managers should consider not only the total road cost but also the impact on the environment caused by road construction and it’s use.

Since building of roads might not be completely halted in the Aravallis, excavator operators, bulldozer operators and forest road inspectors and supervisors should be trained in and should be informed about eco-friendly procedures. Using well-equipped and powerful excavators must be given preference over using of bulldozers, especially for determining the path and limits of the working area in steep terrains.

A study had concluded that the damage caused by an excavator is lesser than that caused by a bulldozer. The width of the construction area was found out to be smaller when excavators were used. For that reason, less forest area was destroyed and fewer trees were cut off in order to clear the way for the construction of road.

The equipment operator’s role during road construction is to determine the safest and most efficient use of equipment, so it should be made sure that he/she is providing with sane and useful analytics in order to limit the damage on the Earth as much as possible.

Once destroyed, nature’s beauty cannot be repurchased at any price!