Aravalli Range [Geography & Environment Notes for UPSC]

The Aravalli Range located in the north-western part of India is one of the oldest fold mountain systems in the world, and in its current form reduced to residual hill ranges. Spanning across four Indian states from Gujarat to Delhi, with an average height of 600 to 900 m, these ranges play a prominent role, affecting the local climate and beyond, directing economic activities, leveraging geographical and environmental resources and biodiversity profiles of the region. 

In this article, we shall be discussing various aspects of the Aravalli Ranges and policies adopted by its constituent states, keeping in mind the requirements of the preliminary as well as mains examination of the UPSC IAS Exam.

Why in News?

In the past few months, cases involving illegal encroachment on forest lands, appeal for the resumption of mining by the government of Haryana has reached the Supreme Court of India, further highlighting various contentious issues. 

About Aravalli Range – The Present Scenario 

The Aravalli range has been at the receiving end of anthropogenic activities, undergoing rapid deterioration, change in its topography. Of late, mindless pursuit of lopsided development, colossal exploitation of natural resources, quarrying, mining activities and destruction of fragile forest ecosystems, have further degraded the groundwater resources and increased levels of pollution. This has resulted in the loss of critical habitats, rendering the conservation measures ineffective,  and in recent years registering an increase in events of human-wildlife conflict. This certainly has thrown upon many questions, the dichotomy of development and conservation, oft-repeated, but yet insufficient to awaken the mass-perils of climate change and its effects in these regions, that housed the cradles of the earliest Indian civilization.

Features of the Aravalli Ranges

  • The Aravalli Range, formed by folding, an orogenic process, is one of the oldest mountain ranges of the world and predates the formation of the Himalayan ranges.
  • The fold mountains are formed by the movement of convergent plate boundaries and subsequent folding.
  • Located in the north-western part of India, the Aravalli stretches from Gujrat to Delhi through Rajasthan and Haryana, with a length close to 692 Km. and an average elevation of 600-900 metres. It is home to several forts, palaces and shares a chequered history in the development of civilization.
  • The northern end of the Aravalli Range forms isolated and rocky hills and ridges in between Haryana and Delhi, whereas the south-western range passes through Gujarat and Rajasthan.
  • The mountains are divided into two main ranges – the Sāmbhar Sirohi Range and the Sambhar Khetri Range in Rajasthan, with an extension of about 560 km. Guru Shikhar is the highest peak of Aravalli with 1722 meters, located near Mount Abu.
  • The drainage of Ganga and Indus is divided by one extension of the Aravalli, from Delhi to Haridwar.
  •  The earliest evidence of mining of Copper is found as far as the 5th Century BC in the Khetri region.

Why is the Aravalli Range Important? 

  • Acts as a barrier to check further spread of desertification to the east of Rajasthan and subsequently to Gangetic plains.
  • The events of dust storms could be more intense and frequent if destruction of the natural barrier- ‘The Aravali’ continued unabated.
  • Responsible for adequate monsoon rainfall and therefore sustaining a plethora of diverse flora fauna, rich biodiversity, livelihood and agriculture in the constituent states.
  • Major rivers such as Luni and Sabarmati originate from the Aravalli range. Seasonal streams along with their tributaries control the water budget in the arid regions of Rajasthan. 
  • The Aravalli acts as a barrier for the clouds to shift eastwards to the lower Himalayas, thus contributing to the climate of north India as well.
  •  Protects the plains from the effect of westerly flowing from the Central Asia region.
  • The Aravalli even with its shrinking forest resources acts as a buffer for the urban landscape to absorb the pressure and shock of increasing anthropogenic activities and pollution.
  • A greener Aravalli acts as a groundwater recharge for the region facing acute water scarcity.

 Challenges and Issues: Environmental, Developmental

  •  Over the years left-out mines, artificial pit- lakes, depleting groundwater level, loss of biodiversity and incidence of disease, pest attacks(Termite), man-animal conflict in the regions portray a grim picture. It essentially manifests the evils of unmindful exploitation, leading the Aravalli and its constituent regions into prolonged spells of ongoing and irreversible destruction.
  • As per a report released by the Wildlife Institute of India, Aravalli is unfortunately home to the most degraded forests in India, needing efforts at par with priority conservation areas.
  • The legislations followed by different states like Rajasthan and Haryana for exploitation of mineral resources are inconsistent with the goals of sustainable development, the need of the time. Greater emphasis should be laid on a Greener Aravalli.
  • For Example, in a report released by the MOEFCC,  the state of Haryana between 2014-2017 topped the chart in the country for diversion of forest land for non-forest activities.
  • The looming threat of desertification spreading east of Aravalli is real. Depleting groundwater levels and breach of the Aravalli range due to change in topography by anthropogenic activities in Haryana, at least at 12 places, in a report published by Wildlife Institute of India projects a worrying picture.
  •  Encroachment of forest land combined with depleting wildlife habitat, dried-up points of water bodies have forced the wildlife to venture out into human habitations. Leopards rescued from Gurugram and other places, inhabiting concrete jungles, point to this fact.

Role of Judiciary and Other Constitutional Organs

  • The Supreme court had in the past termed environment and ecology as national assets, suspended all mining activities in the Aravalli hills in Haryana, till compliance with statutory provisions for restoration and reclamation.
  • In 2018, and more recently in June 2021 the honourable supreme court of India ordered for the demolition of large enclaves of the housing complex, built in violation of the environmental laws, encroaching fragile ecosystems in the forest land of Aravalli in Haryana.
  • A 1600 km long Green Wall of India, proposed by environmental activist Vijaypal Baghel at the Conference of Parties (COP14) by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in New Delhi, was taken up for consideration by the Central government.

Way Forward

  • Degradation of Aravalli and overall change in its topography, soil, vegetation must be scientifically mapped for a comprehensive strategy to restore the greenery and protect the ranges.
  • Redundancy and non-compliance of outdated laws, the difference in land legislation must be streamlined, lack of priority, outlook towards conservation of the Aravalli among its constituent states must be addressed.
  • States and the Union Government must evolve and adopt a robust common mechanism for smooth implementation of conservation measures, across the length and breadth of the Aravalli, to restore its desired state.
  • Sustainable, responsible mining should replace the exploitative practices adopted at present.
  • Eco-sensitive zones and potential animal movement corridors must be protected at all costs.
  • Adequate Soil Moisture conservation measures must be taken up, along with the integration of traditional water harvesting and ground aquifer recharge technologies. e.g. Mission Bhagirath of Telangana.
  • Alternative economic avenues, livelihood measures, steps strengthening the rural economy of the region must be accorded priority.
  • Service-based industries must be prioritized, skilling and up-gradation with reskilling should be encouraged to pull persons out of the cycle of unskilled labour in quarrying and to further check the deterioration and illegal exploitation of mineral resources.
  • Large-scale plantation and green coverage must be increased on a priority basis to check for further deterioration.
  • Cropping patterns in the regions must be tuned to the needs of the time and should match with the ones requiring non-intensive irrigation.

 Conclusion

The Aravalli is a major mountain range of our country, and it holds immense importance for the constituent states outlining its culture, heritage and history, affecting its environment, climate, geography, securing economy and food security for millions. Common citizens, civil society, and the various organs of the State must come together, join hands for a common goal of protecting and restoring the Aravalli through several measures. Protection and checking further degradation of the Aravalli is essential for this generation and beyond.

This article is relevant for the sections of Geography, Environment, Ecology and Biodiversity part of the UPSC syllabus prescribed for Preliminary and Main Examination of UPSC Civil Service.

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