In North Gujarat’s Granite-Rich Idar, Locals Fearful About Aravalli Mountains’ Future

Locals are worried that if the BJP wins the elections, the Idar mountains are bound to be blasted again for mining.
Idar is located in northern Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Idar (Gujarat): As one enters Idar town, roads, marketplaces, homes and the locals are all dwarfed by the opulence of the Idariyo Gadh – the highest hill fort on a mountain range from the Aravallis that casts its shadow on the town.

Idar is located in northern Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district, at the southern end of the Aravalli Range, and has been the subject of heightened attention ever since 2016, when talks of leasing out the granite-rich mountains for mining disturbed peace in the town.

Since then, locals have waged countless struggles and have strived to save the mountains from being emptied of their natural resources. But now with elections round the corner (Sabarkantha votes on May 3), their apprehensions for the future have renewed their past fears.

Movement for mountains

“We have fought for Idariyo Gadh risking our own lives,” says Rajkumar Gurjar, a member of the Gadh Bachao Samiti, a committee formed in 2016 to protect the mountains from becoming a mining site.

In 2016, when locals woke up to the news of the mountain range being leased out to private companies for hollowing out the huge granite rock formations that form the face of Idar, they expressed extreme worry and apprehension.

This led a few of them to form the ‘Gadh Bachao Samiti’, to not only exert pressure on the state government to stop the private companies from mining granite, but also to highlight the historic and cultural significance of the area.

Since 2016, talks of leasing out the granite-rich mountains for mining purposes have disturbed peace in the town. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Locals told The Wire that from 2016 to 2018, 17 lease holders had already begun mining across 31,000 metres at the Idariyo Gadh. Some of the lease holders were companies such as Kashtbhanjan Mines, Century granite, Idar stone, Himalaya granite, Rosy Mineral, Tirtha industries, Vijaysinh Kumpavat, Ramavtar Bajaj, Ratnav Devendrasinh, NBR mines, Om granite and Sai stone.

“The moment we rallied against these companies, we were jailed. For 12 days, several members of our Samiti were put behind bars in Himmatnagar Jail. Cases of loot and vandalism were filed against us. But what has irked us was that every time the mining activities were stopped, a few days later, they would be restarted again,” Rajkumar complained.

Rajkumar and many locals over the years have penned at least 4,000 postcards from Idar to the Prime Minister’s Office. From holding candle vigils to organising street plays, from planning city closures to protesting and rallying throughout the town, it has been a movement for the future of the mountains.

“Our major issue is that all laws were circumvented to facilitate these activities, while mining laws strictly state that no mining blasts shall be conducted within 4 km from national highways and 2 km from state highways, both these rules were bent to enable private firms to exploit Idar,” argued Rajkumar.

Kashtbhanjan was one of the many lessees involved in the mining activities. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Heritage, environment under attack

Home to at least 18 religious sites – ranging from Jain temples to Islamic shrines – Idariyo Gadh is drenched in ecology, historicity and culture. Frequent visitors to the sites told The Wire that the walls of the Shri Hinglaj Maa Temple, Digamber Jain Temple and Navgajapir Dargah developed cracks after the mining began.

Traditionally acclaimed for the manufacture of handmade wooden toys, its temples and several forts on its hills, locals treasure these mountains that also dictate the economy of Idar indirectly.

Ekta Gurjar, 29, has been a part of the movement ever since the town began its struggle against the mining leases. “We have grown up under the shadow of these mountains, they are our childhood, heritage and our identity. We cannot let the government put them up for sale,” Ekta told The Wire.

Ekta, also a member of the Gadh Bachao Samiti, talks very fondly of the mountain range with a twinkle in her eyes. She tells the tale of the Idariyo Gadh – which was under the control of the archer tribe of Bhils from the year 827.     Then the Rathore dynasty, the Rajput warriors of Rajasthan, conquered Idar in 1257, and it became a princely state of India till 1948. The Rathores ruled Idar for 12 generations until 1656, when they were defeated by the Mughals. Jodhpur’s king recaptured it in 1729. A number of battles took place as Idar changed hands: from the Muslims and Marathas, to its recapture by the Rajputs at various points in history.

Blocks of granite extracted during mining still sit near the mountains, along with tyre marks. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Idar’s locals tell various folktales about the fortress city, surrounded by the Aravalli mountains on three sides, with its main gate on one side: this made it almost impossible to invade.

“In ancient times when wars were rampant, Idar had a major advantage as the city acted as a natural protective barrier against invaders. Idar was therefore extremely difficult to conquer, and capturing this state was every ruler’s dream,” said Shyamji Sinh, a local dairy owner. Sinh also recalls the time when the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Kabhie Kabhie was shot at the Dungar hills in Idar. “After the release, hyper tourism and mining emptied the Dungar hills, we don’t want the same to happen to the Gadh,” he said.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Apart from being a historical heritage site, environmentalist Mahesh Pandya views the Idariyo Gadh as an ecosystem. “The range is rich in flora and fauna, exquisite biodiversity with a bionetwork that should be left untouched. Mining has already disturbed the creatures there, they are the first ones to be affected,” he explained.

Hiren Panchal, a local tourism guide, also added how mining has already let loose leopards surviving in the Aravallis. Panchal, who hosts eco-tourism treks in the region and is well aware of its fragility, feels that blasting the range will also deplete groundwater levels which have already declined over the years. “North Gujarat receives less rain compared to the rest of the state, and the Aravallis help recharge the ground water level. Mining them is like killing the region’s water supply. This disrupts the entire environmental network that has been sustaining the biodiversity here,” he remarked.

Political pause?

Over the years, Rajkumar and other locals in the mountain town organised protests, candle vigils, ‘bandhs’ and even skits to spread awareness, but it was only in October 2023 that Idar saw a political figure intervening to assure the locals about putting a stop to the mining activities.

“It was only after Mohan Bhagwat ji came to Idar that the activities were stopped. If it weren’t for him, they would be looting the Gadh,” said Nattubhai Patel, an RSS supporter. Patel, 77, spent two weeks in jail, because of the protests they engaged in.  Despite this Patel finds hope in Bhagwat.

“The government is selling off these mountains for so-called development, it is dismantling our history and heritage,” he said.

Ambalal Patel, 65, another local, was also jailed along with Nattubhai and Rajkumar, is wary of the sudden stop that was placed on mining activities. “We filed an RTI in 2017 which revealed that the mining had yielded at least Rs 42 lakh worth of granite. We wrote to the CM, PMO, protested, went to jail and suddenly one day, months before elections, Bhagwat ji decides to put a stop to it. Wasn’t there a system in-charge of this?” asked Ambalal.

Over the years, locals in the mountain town have organized protests, candle vigils, ‘bandhs’ and even skits to spread awareness about the cause. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Locals like Ambalal are worried that if the BJP wins the elections, the Idar mountains are bound to be blasted again.

Their apprehensions are based on more than what papers document. Some locals requesting anonymity told The Wire that the rampant mining and intensive investments were allegedly linked to Anar Patel, daughter of former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel. Anandiben Patel, who is now the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, had resigned from chief ministership in 2016, the same year that mining at Idar began. Before her resignation, she took significant decisions like hiking government servants’ salaries, withdrawing cases against her protesters, and modifying the industrial policy.

Overriding the pleas and protests that Idar’s locals undertook to save the mountains, Bhagwat was able to halt the hollowing of the range. While this pacified many locals, those who had closely been a part of the struggle to save the range are not convinced.

“They had dug out thousands of metres and drilled out granite, late at night, and trucks still ferry the granite out of Idar. We don’t want the mining to start again but we know that once their political objective is achieved, the mining will begin again,” a member of the Gadh Bachao Samiti said.

View of Idar town from Daulat Mahal located in the Aravalli hills. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

With its protests, politics and possibilities of environmental threat, the Idariyo Gadh stands tall. The people of Idar pray to the mountains range everyday, to bless them with the resolve to resist the capitalists.

Courtesy: The Wire



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