Outcry forces Sindh govt to cancel Karoonjhar granite extraction auction

Published July 25, 2023
the Karoonjhar Hills are draped in green after recent rains.—Photo by writer
the Karoonjhar Hills are draped in green after recent rains.—Photo by writer

MITHI: In the wake of mounting pressure by conservationists and civil society and open opposition by Tharparkar’s parliamentarians, the Directorate General of Mines and Mineral Development cancelled on Monday open auction for the grant of lease for mining granite from majestic Karoonjhar Hills in Nagarparkar.

The directorate, which had invited bids for the auction through advertisements published in Monday’s newspapers, issued a notification as well as a public notice the same day, announcing cancellation of the controversial move.

The provincial government moved into action after PPP MNA Mahesh Malani conveyed to the chief minister rising public anger against the auction and MPAs Arbab Lutfullah and Surendar Valasai and Tharparkar deputy commissioner Lal Dino Mangi wrote letters to the authorities concerned urging them to withdraw the decision.

They said that it would distort fabled natural beauty, rich culture and history of the hills if the extraction of stones was allowed and urged the functionaries concerned to take steps to conserve the site for its historical, religious and cultural significance.

Minister Bijarani tells PA no mining lease for Karoonjhar Hills issued since 2018

The trio had in fact tried to control the damage by placating conservationists, members of civil society, people of different shades and social standing from across the country and beyond who had taken to various social media forums to express their anger and launched a ‘Save Karoonjhar’ drive after seeing ads in newspapers about the auction for granite mining.

Leaders of Karoonjhar Sujag Forum warned of re-launching a strong movement against the ‘greedy elements’ who wanted to defile the picturesque hills, which were the major tourist attraction in Thar, especially after rains.

The forum’s chief Allah Rakhio Khoso, Thar Sujag Sath leaders Salim Samejo, Arshad Kunbhar, Rahul Dev and others demanded action against those, who had first carried out surveys of the hills and then invited tenders for the granite extraction. “This could be yet another ploy of high-ups of Sindh government and those greedy forces, who always cast evil eyes on the beautiful hills,” they said and demanded the lawmakers table a bill in Sindh Assembly to ban permanently the extraction of both granite and gravel from the hills.

They advised the government to make concerted efforts to get the entire Parkar region, inclusive of the Karoonjhar Hills, enlisted as the World Heritage Site as was frequently promised by Sindh Minister for Culture and Tourism Syed Sardar Ali Shah.

The High Court Bar Association, Hyderabad, and Tharparkar District Bar Association also passed resolutions at their respective meetings, condemning the move to destroy the hills and demanding the government act responsibly to ensure conservation of the heritage site.

Sindh Minister for Mines and Mineral Development Nawab Shabbir Bijarani, who had not only defended his department’s decision on different TV channels but also written tweets in favour of the granite extraction, not only deleted his comments but also backpedalled on his earlier stance after coming under scathing criticism by thousands of people on social media.

Meanwhile, the minister said on a personal point of clarification during proceedings of Sindh Assembly that the chief minister had formed a ministerial committee on Karoonjhar Hills, which had visited the area and prepared a report on public opinion with regard to the tourist site.

He said the government had not issued any mining lease for Karoonjhar Hills since 2018. But “the provincial government cannot ignore wishes and concerns of people. A case has also been sent to Unesco asking it to include the hills in World heritage Sites,” he added.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2023

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