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Ravaged hillsides, slashed and hacked into ugly outcrops of rocks cut open are a common sight while driving through Rajasthan.

In fact, 31 hills in the Aravalli range of the state have “vanished” altogether, a fact that shocked the Supreme Court (SC) when it was hearing a matter related to illegal mining activities in the hill range on Tuesday, October 23.

It prompted the top court to order the Rajasthan Government to stop illegal mining in the 115.34-hectare area there within 48 hours.

While the case was about illegal mining, the counsel for Rajasthan government came up with the argument of royalty that the state government earned from mining.

The SC court said though Rajasthan was earning a royalty of around Rs 5,000 crore from mining activities in Aravalli, it cannot endanger the lives of lakhs of people in Delhi as the disappearance of hills there could be one of reasons for rise in pollution level in the national capital region (NCR).

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta referred to the status report filed by Rajasthan government and said it indicated that illegal mining activity was going on in 115.34 hectare area in Aravalli range in the state.

It also referred to a report of the central empowered committee (CEC) which had said that out of 128 samples taken by the Forest Survey of India (FSI), as many as 31 hills or hillocks have vanished.

“31 hills or hillocks have disappeared. If hills will disappear in the country, what will happen? Have people become ‘Hanuman’ that they are running away with hills?” Justice Lokur asked the counsel appearing for Rajasthan, according to a report in The Indian Express (IE).

“15-20 per cent hills have vanished in the state of Rajasthan. This is your ground truth. Whom you want to take for a ride?” the bench asked, adding that the state has failed to protect the Aravalli range from illegal mining, the IE reported.

The top court said that it was compelled to pass an order to stop illegal mining activities in 115.34-hectare area there within 48 hours as it appeared that the state has taken the issue “very lightly”.

It directed the chief secretary of Rajasthan to file an affidavit regarding compliance of its order within this week and posted the matter for hearing on Monday, October 29.

The bench said that it was “not at all satisfied” with the contents of status report filed by the state as it mostly deals with the “so called incompetence” of the FSI.

It said that state of Rajasthan must appreciate that FSI was a body of Government of India and it would not be proper to made “wild allegations” against them.

During the hearing, the bench asked the state’s counsel as to what steps have been taken by them to stop illegal mining activity in Aravalli area.

“We have issued show cause notices and FIRs have also been registered (in cases of illegal mining),” the counsel said.

“If you start removing all the hills, pollution from different parts of areas nearby NCR will come to Delhi. This could be one of the reasons that we have so much pollution in Delhi. For sake of few miners in your state, you are endangering the lives of lakhs of people in Delhi,” the bench said.

When the top court was told that Rajasthan was getting a royalty of around Rs 5,000 crore from mining activities, said the IE report, the bench said, “You (state) want royalty. You will get it but health expenses for people of Delhi will be 10 times of your royalty.”

The state’s counsel told the court that all the concerned government departments in Rajasthan were “on the job” to stop illegal mining.

To this, the bench said, “What kind of job? Damage has already been done to Delhi. You have not disputed the view of CEC that 31 hills or hillocks have disappeared”.

“You give this Rs 5,000 crore (royalty) for health of people of Delhi. Hospitals in Delhi are overcrowded, people are dying here,” the bench said, according to the IE report.

The counsel appearing for the CEC said that court must take the drastic step of stopping mining activities in Aravalli as the state would not take any action against them.

“It is completely a hopeless cause. If the government permits illegality to go on, what can anybody do then,” the bench said, adding, “it is completely beyond control”.

The court said it was not clear from status report filed by the state in September this year as to whether illegal mining in 115.34 hectares have stopped.

“We are giving you 48 hours to close these mines,” the bench told the state’s counsel.

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