SHC bans mining at Karoonjhar Hills, says range is ‘one monument’ under the law

Published October 20, 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

A division bench of the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) Hyderabad circuit on Thursday handed down a landmark judgement on the preservation of Nagarparkar district’s Karoonjhar Hills, calling for its protection in conformity with international guidelines.

The written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that the “entire range of Karoonjhar Hill is one monument under the law and cannot be divided into pieces and portions to make some part of it available for any prohibited excavation”.

“There is thus a unanimous and united call for [the] importance of imminent legislation and its enforcement on this burning issue of destruction of mother nature and here in our country, such ‘ecocide’ being committed at [the] sweet will of those sitting in power corridors and ‘mining permits’ is an evidence of such will,” the order said.

The court issued the verdict after hearing two identical petitions — one of which was filed by Munawar Ali Sagar and others in 2021, while the second was filed by Advocate Shanker Lal earlier this year.

The latest petition was filed after the provincial mines department allowed companies to excavate at the site after granting them a lease, leading to outrage among civil society. The court had initially stayed the excavation before hearing the matter at length.

The 15-page written verdict judgment, authored by Justice Mohammad Shafi Siddiqui, said that Karoonjhar Hills was not available for excavation of any nature whatsoever, except excavation for discovering historical monuments, that too after following international guidelines.

“Mines and mineral department doesn’t have jurisdiction over it since it is a protected heritage and not available as a site for mining/excavation,” the court stated.

“Its importance lies in preserving the entire range and not permitting mineral excavation in between as it will not only destroy the beauty at the conclusion of mining process but will destroy existing topography”, said the order.

It told the Forest and Wildlife department to take immediate measures to restore the sanctuary for all those animals and birds whose habitat was Karoonjhar Hills.

The court ordered the department concerned to maintain a record of plantation for every hill in the range and to monitor the growth of plants and trees. The department was also told to place a report before the court every three months.

Further, the court also directed the Tharparkar deputy commissioner and the SHO concerned to ensure that no commercial activity of any nature, which could be described as mining or excavation, was carried out within Karoonjhar Hills. Justice Siddiqui wrote that the “Sindh government shall ensure these range of mountain be maintained as ordered and required under law”.

“In case any mining permit or any action or inaction is found to have been triggered or issued or if any private mining work is seen and found in progress, the secretary of mines and mineral and all officials concerned shall be primarily held responsible and be taken to task, besides others,” the order warned.

In addition, the court called for “resurrecting every Jain temple” in its original form with the assistance of experts. Otherwise, the order warned, the officials responsible for protection of these heritage sites will be held responsible.

It said statues that were declared world heritage should also be made available so that these relics could be protected in their original form.

Court emphasises importance of Karoonjhar Hills

In the order, the court said that the “existence of Karoonjhar Hills goes almost as far back as history of this globe is”.

“Some archaeologists suggest that it is one of fewest mountains existing since approximately three billion years. This globe is only four to 4.5 billion years old. There are certainly quite a few ranges older than this Karoonjhar range as historians/archaeologists say but present one cannot be ignored and undermined because of its history”.

“The range of mountains in fact is [an] extension of Aravalli range. This range belongs to the Achaean period. Karoonjhar Hills also form part of Runn Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary and was supposed to be protected by the wildlife department. It said the Sindh Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act 2020 prohibits damage under the present enactment,” the order said, adding that the law also barred interference with its natural structure.

“Excavation for resources cannot be ignored for human existence, however, generally structured rules and regulations to utilise resources will govern the subject but cannot be applied to international heritage,” the court said.

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