[Editorial Analysis] Plain tales from the hills

Mains Paper 1: Geography

Prelims level: Aravallis

Mains level: Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

Context

• The hills are melting away before our eyes.

• About 50 km before you reach Jaipur on NH 8, you drive past an imposing hill of quartzite looming over a small hamlet called Deo ka Harmara, near Chandwaji.

• Like a giant cone of shawarma, the rock is being pared away layer by layer and eventually ground into gravel-sized stones to be used for road-building.

• It shrinking by noticeable increments each time.

• This is not an illegal mining operation, just one of hundreds of tekra outcrops that are being dismantled and crushed for roadworks all over Rajasthan, and no doubt, elsewhere in this country.

What are the hidden issues?

• Mining is big, easy money in Rajasthan today.

• The state boasts a long list of valuable minerals hidden in its hills and below ground zinc, silver, uranium, copper, limestone, some of the most colourful marble in the world, mica, dolomite but not that all of these minerals add up to a tenth of what is actually mined in small, reckless, fly-by-night operations.

• Most of the mining is about relatively less-valuable Aravalli quartzite and granite. Or drive out in almost any direction from Jaisalmer town and the stony ground is pitted and broken by shallow digging for the ochre limestone that lies exposed on the surface.

• There is no reason to doubt that someone needs to restrain the unregulated digging and looting of rocks and minerals before Rajasthan disappears down a large dusty hole of its own making.

• The Supreme Court that steps in and not an enlightened and concerned state government.

Environmental degradation in other countries

• Countries like South Africa and Australia, which do a colossal amount of mining have their problems too, but they have evolved policies that address important issues of how to steer a course between challenge and opportunity.

• It can be nobody’s case that mining is all bad and should be banned.

• These countries recognise that along with economic benefits and employment, mining threatens to severely pollute and degrade the environment and have created strong regulatory regimes to encourage compliance with environmental and mitigatory rules.

Why do we find it so difficult to do anything like this in India?

• The problem is a lack of probity and enforcement, because there are rules and regulations in place although no one can seriously argue that the rules have been framed with any serious intent or rigour. Naam ke vaaste is the name of the game.

• This applies all around, to every parameter of the environment in this country.

• Whether we look at the quality of water in our rivers and lakes, at the contamination of fossil water in our aquifers, at the fouling of the air or the stripping of topsoil from fields, at pesticide residues in our food, at natural old-growth forests and wilderness being lost and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

• It is painfully evident that India has simply not summoned up the will to enact and enforce regulations to curb degradation.

• No aspect of the environment figures in the election planks or promises of any political party.

• It is foolish or at best naïve to expect environmental legislation to arrive unbidden from our legislatures.

• It needs a groundswell of public support and pressure for any of this to happen just like it needed insistent demand from the outdoor recreational angling community to push through the Clean Water Act in the US.

Way forward

• The National Capital Region’s dreadful plight is seen as an opportunity, but this is the sad reality in India today.

• It is the first high-profile crisis we have faced that everyone recognises is squarely an environmental one.

• It is seen as having a set of discrete, preventable causes and even if everyone doesn’t agree about how to ameliorate the situation, everyone does agree that it can be mitigated by a set of measures that curbs some things and outlaws others.

• Delhi’s bad air presents itself as an opportunity to underline linkages between the degradation of our air, soil, food and water, and the need for good legislation, and indeed, better enforcement of such legislation.

• Delhi’s crisis to usher in a new general understanding of how important it is to protect our environment.

• The sad truth is we sometimes need to come to the very brink before we pull back and learn to act sensibly.

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