Hills give life: Stop bulldozing Aravalis. They provide crucial defence against desertification of north India

The Aravali hills have shaped the climate of the upper Indo-Gangetic plains for many hundreds of years. So it’s no surprise that their rapid man-made degradation in recent decades is proving very consequential, pushing the spread of the Indian desert towards eastern Rajasthan, Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh. Yet, despite numerous warning signs, governments have simply not stepped up to protect the Aravalis as they should.

In 2018 the Supreme Court was informed that one-fourth of these hills in Rajasthan were gone forever. This newspaper has reported how after that too the wrecking ball of construction has continued erasing hillocks in Haryana. The Supreme Court took cognizance of yesterday’s report to direct immediate stay on construction, asking the Haryana government to explain allowing such construction in violation of its orders. It appears court orders keep getting undermined just like government regulations – this may be the real contempt of court, rather than somebody’s tweet – even as from Himalayas to Western Ghats the local administration mindset is that if they aren’t being used for mining or roads or to house people, the mountains are being wasted.

In cases like Haryana the state itself can be seen resisting the notification of natural conservation zones, so much so that an exasperated Punjab and Haryana High Court said earlier this year, “If your intention is that you are not going to protect it…. then say so.”  It’s against the backdrop of such challenges that the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020 has been passionately debated. Given the rampant non-compliance of existing safeguards as also the mounting costs of land degradation, India needs a regulatory framework that both balances environment  and development imperatives, and is implementable. It’s no exaggeration to say that the country’s future rides on this.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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