Karoonjhar Must Be Saved From The Greed Of Stone Mining Interests

Karoonjhar is not just a mountain but a whole history embedded in itself - it has thousands of years of civilisation, history and culture

Karoonjhar Must Be Saved From The Greed Of Stone Mining Interests

We see large, diverse mountains on earth, whose origins are believed to be tectonic plate collisions. A collision of tectonic plates formed continents and mountain ranges around the world. There is more to these mountains than just their natural beauty. They contain a complex biological system as well. In view of the indiscriminate cutting of mountains and the threat of their extinction, it was decided to celebrate the World Mountain Day in 2003, to highlight the importance of mountains in the world to protect them. Mountains all over the world fascinate nature lovers and tourists and thus drive the tourism industry.

Tourism in the Northern Areas of Pakistan is based on the natural beauty through mountain ranges. But the Karoonjhar mountains in Sindh, which not only showcase natural beauty but also have a historical and cultural significance, have been indiscriminately felled for many years. A natural museum of beauty, the Karoonjhar mountains are a unique manifestation of nature's arts. Apart from that, the mountains have large deposits of granite, porcelain and precious stones of various colours and textures. This mountain range, spread over 26 km, has a 1000-metre height. 

In 1988, a mining company was awarded a contract to extract granite from this mountain site by the government. The company, however, was no longer able to survive there. The job was then given to another company. It was reported to an online magazine by one of the engineers that the company extracted between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of stone every month. Mountains were broken using dynamite. He claims that this process contributed to not only huge stone waste, but also adversely impacted Karoonjhar's natural environment. 

The locals in Karoonjhar filed a petition in 2010 in order to stop the company from mining in the area, and in response, the Supreme Court ordered the mining to be halted. Another company that was mining and extracting granite from Karoonjhar in 2004 took over its contract and gave it to Pakistan Army's Engineering Company, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), that is now mining excessively. Vultures are decreasing in number in Karoonjhar because of the explosion of dynamite used in mining. The number of native animals, like deer and leopards, as well as birds, has decreased significantly. Rare local trees are also disappearing due to mining, according to an engineer of a company quoted to an online magazine.

Its economic importance can be gauged from the locals saying that “Karoonjhar produces a hundred kilos of gold every day.”

Karoonjhar is not just a mountain but a whole history embedded in itself. It has thousands of years of civilisation, history and culture. A researcher Mashkoor Phulkari in his book Saraswati Civilization and Achru Thar writes that the Karoonjhar mountain range has 109 hills with more than 100 religious and cultural holy places for different faiths. Many other religions regard these mountains as holy sites, just as Muslims hold Makkah and Madinah in high regard. This area was very prosperous in the past, when the river Hakaro flowed through Saraswati Yamuna and Sutlej and ended in the Thar desert.

The historical status of Karoonjhar can be estimated from the fact that Mangaharam Ojha writes in his book Prana Parkar that “when the five brothers Yudhishthira, Bhim, Arjun, Nikola and Sahadev - the main characters of the Mahabharata - were exiled by their cousin Kaurava, they spent some time in these Karoonjhar mountains.”

Sindh's poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai also mentions Karoonjhar in his poetry.

Rooplo Kolhi, a rebel character who became a metaphor for resistance against the British occupation, and who was later hanged along with his colleagues, used this Karoonjhar as a shield to attack the British.

Many Jain temples still exist in Karoonjhar in dilapidated condition. Karoonjhar's highest peak is called Trott Peak (Tarvat Jo Thalho). It is said that the British soldier Colonel Trott used to sit here and hold court, and so the peak was named Trott's Peak (Tarvat Jo Thalho).

But it is a pity that this kind of historical and cultural heritage could not be protected from our usual worthlessness. This kind of cultural and historical heritage should have been protected from our usual valuelessness, but unfortunately it wasn't. From time to time, protests happen against the cutting of Karoonjhar, as well as social media trends aimed at waking up the authorities. Although the process of demolishing Karoonjhar has never ceased, the Sindh government, including local representatives, have remained silent spectators. Recently, the Sindh government of Pakistan People's Party issued an advertisement for the auction of Karoonjhar. This was reversed later on, after protests all across Sindh and a strong social media campaign.

The local people say that the silence of the Sindh government and the local elected representatives indicates their involvement in the cutting process.

The irony is that there are those one who are cutting Karoonjhar, and the others are those who are claiming to save Karoonjhar. But according to the local people, actually both the rescuers and the reapers of Karoonjhar are standing in the same line. The difference is that the harvesters are harvesting to earn maximum capital and a few of the savers on the front line are eager to become share-holder in the earning.

It is as if everyone's hands are stained with the blood of Karoonjhar. Various animals living on the mountain are also under threat due to mining of Karoonjhar. The deer have already became extinct due to indiscriminate poaching.

Karoonjhar is not only a tourist destination but also a daily life of the local people also depends on it. The Karoonjhar dam supplies water to Nagarparkar area. During the rainy season, rainwater comes down from the mountains and flows into more than 20 streams. By cutting, this water cycle will stop and people will also be deprived of water. In addition, the local people use the plants and herbs grown in the mountains as medicine for many diseases. They also collect and sell these plants and herbs.

Protection of Karoonjhar is the need of the hour. A few businesspeople are determined to destroy culture, history and the environment for profit.

The Karoonjhar hills are home to animals, birds and rare species, including peacocks and deer. Karoonjhar symbolises the civilization of local communities and their rituals, culture, customs, traditions, folklore, songs, stories and thousands of years of religious harmony.

Recently the Sindh High Court has ordered to stop harvesting of Karoonjhar and cancel all leases. But many such orders have been issued in the past as well, but the harvesting of Karoonjhar could not be stopped. The Sindh government and local elected representatives should end their silence and take steps to protect Karoonjhar as soon as possible, otherwise remaining silent will continue to be seen as supporting the criminal and complicity in the crime.

The writer is a media communication student in NUML, Islamabad, Pakistan.