SHC stays extraction of minerals from Karoonjhar Hills

Published August 2, 2023
The Karoonjhar Hills are draped in green after recent rains. —Photo courtesy: Imtiaz Dharani/File
The Karoonjhar Hills are draped in green after recent rains. —Photo courtesy: Imtiaz Dharani/File

HYDERABAD: The controversial decision of the provincial government to call tenders for extraction of granite from the majestic Karoonjhar Hills finally reached the Sindh High Court that restrained the mines and minerals development department on Tuesday from cutting or extracting minerals from the hills in Nagarparkar.

Although the provincial government had claimed to have cancelled the tender notice, the Hyderabad circuit bench comprising Justices Khadim Hussain Tunio and Arbab Ali Hakro passed the restraining order till Aug 15 on a public interest petition filed by Advocate Shankar Lal Meghwar, a resident of Tharparkar.

Advocate Meghwar cited as respondents secretary for mines and minerals development department, secretary for forest and wildlife, director general of the directorate of mines and minerals development Karachi, Tharparkar district administration and police officials.

The petitioner submitted to the court the July 27 public auction notice issued by the department concerned while an assistant director of the department submitted copies of two notices dated July 22 and 23 under which the auction had been cancelled.

Govt was to hold auction of marble, gravel, sand and limestone extraction across Sindh on Aug 4

He said the auction notice was published for small scale mining permits for lake salt, china clay, marble, gravel, sand and limestone across the province. The auction was scheduled for Aug 1 and later it was rescheduled for Aug 4 and the public notice for the same was published on July 29, he said.

Now, he said, the auction had been cancelled. The court took this on record and provided its copy to the petitioner to go through it while Additional Advocate General of Sindh Allah Bachayo Soomro sought time to file comments on behalf of the respondents.

The court, meanwhile, restrained the respondents from cutting Karoonjhar Hills or removing any minerals from the mountains till Aug 15.

The petitioner stated that he was aggrieved by the auction notice dated July 22 by the respondent DG, who had invited applications for the granite extraction.

He termed the DG’s act as illegal and said it was negation of the court’s orders passed earlier. The Karoonjhar Hills were part of ancient history of Tharparkar in Rann of Kuchh. The herbage and vegetation that grew on the mountains was used for medicinal purposes and fodder for livestock. They provided shelter to wildlife and helped dispose of Nagarparkar’s sewage, he said.

After rainfall on the mountains, the area’s groundwater got recharged and were used as the only source of drinking water and agriculture, he said.

He said the respondents issued the auction notice without considering historical significance of the mountains. The Nagarparkar’s civil judge and judicial magistrate had also passed an order on Dec 28, 2021, on an application banning illegal mining and cutting of the mountains, he said.

He said that earlier the SHC had passed an order on Nov 13, 2019, staying the mining activities at the mountains. In another petition, the court had passed order on Jan 7, 2021, directing the respondents to form a committee to declare Karoonjhar Hills as heritage and ancient property, he said.

The committee was formed but it failed to make any headway on its mandate and as a result the illegal cutting and mining continued so much so that a new auction notice was published, forcing the area residents to take matters in their own hands by launching ‘Save Karoonjhar’ campaign.

He appealed to the court to suspend the auction notification dated July 22.

Published in Dawn, Aug 2nd, 2023

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