Karoonjhar mountains are located in Nagarparkar near the district Tharparkar, Sindh on the northern edge of the Rann of Kutch. The mountain range is approximately 2.5 billion years old. An old temple of Jain is also located in the basement of these mountains.Tourists from around the world flock to visit Karoonjhar. Many poets have composed poetry on these very hilltops.
People based in the surrounding areas have developed an emotional connection with Karoonjhar. Enlisted among the lowest mountain ranges in the country, the Karoonjhar mountain range stands at a mere height of 305 metres above sea level, with a total length of 19 kilometres.
The mountains were shaped when the entire surface of the earth was geologically active and the continents, as we know them today, were being formed. This is why the entire region has an interesting and uneven cliffy formation and thus belongs to one of the earth’s oldest rock systems.
Geological and Historical Importance:
The place can be listed among the oldest tourist attractions in Sindh that haven’t been fully explored yet. Researcher Mashkoor Phulkaro, in his book Sarasvati Tahzeeb ain Achhro Thar, writes that there are 109 hills comprising the Karoonjhar range and at least just as many (108) holy sites. This means it would be hard to step anywhere in this region without finding a holy place. Most researchers claim that it is the oldest mountain range after the Himalayas.
Karoonjhar Mountains is a source of old granite rocks and china clay which are very precious. Many animals, birds and different species of insects dwell in Karoonjhar including peacocks and deers. Hence, Karoonjhar is home to a diverse wildlife.
Karoonjhar is being exploited by real-estate capitalists who have no regard for nature, and by extension the inhabitants, and are busy making billions out of housing schemes, artificial greenery and luxuries.
In historical perspective, Rooplo Kolhi, a Thari who fought against the British army, was hanged there, is the identity of Karoonjhar. Unfortunately, it has come to the notice of the local populace, that some people are cutting granite, precious stone and china clay from top of the hill for sale. Locals claim that the mines department is cutting stones and selling them for millions. Some educated residents and activists have, time and again, protested against these illegal excavations.Karoonjhar mountains contain plants that are used for their medicinal properties. Due to deforestation, it has already lost its beauty.
Protests and Petitions by the Locals:
One of the locals named Ghulam Mustafa Hingorjo, had filed a petition against the illegal cutting of granite in the Hyderabad bench. The court ruled in support of the petitioner.
During the proceedings, there had been several protests against illegal extractions in and outside the courtroom. Zulfiqar Ali Khoso is a native of Nagarparkar; he is a young social activist, who launched a campaign against stone cutting in Karoonjhar. In mid-November 2019, the hashtag ‘#SaveKaroonjhar’ trended on twitter. The campaign was launched by the Karoonjhar Youth Forum. From Nagarparkar to Hyderabad, members of the civil society held protests against the excavations.
On 31 May,2022, the residents of Thar protested against the illegal extraction of granite from different parts of Thar including Mithi, Islamkot, Diplo naukot etc.The residents protested against the failure of district administration to ensure the imposition of a complete ban on the extraction of granite. They said despite the Sindh High Court’s orders, the contractors of the small dams were using the stone without any check and balance. They termed it as ‘an invasion of the historical and religious sites of the hills’ by the influential contractors.
The Judicial Magistrate’s court rejected a review petition of the companies with regard to the court’s decision. The court also directed the local administration to remove camps of the companies extracting stone from Karoonjhar hills and ordered SSP Tharparkar to submit report to the court on daily basis. “Who is excavating Karoonjhar hills?” the chief justice asked the petitioner. “The Mines and Minerals Department is cutting the hills,” the petitioner had said.
It is evident that the people are aware of the destruction of their heritage, hence they are protesting it relentlessly. During this struggle, many activists have faced threats, attacks and blasphemy charges, for which they had to leave their birth places and resort to self-exiles.
Thar Coal Project:
Karoonjhar is being exploited by state – favored capitalists who have no regard for nature, and by extension the inhabitants, and are busy making billions out of housing schemes, artificial greenery and luxuries. One of the prime examples of oppression on indigenous people’s rights is the Thar coal project. People have protested against the adverse effects of these projects – against land acquisition , the loss of livelihood, increased securitization and the short and long term implications for public health , water security and Thar ecology.
Repetitive studies have shown that the Thar coal project would have disastrous consequences on public health, water security and environmental justice.
The project is directly supported by the Government Of Pakistan and therefore, virtually unchallengeable. But why do people oppose the Thar coal project, in particular? Because the promises to people have not been delivered – promises that included provision of jobs, grazing lands and fair compensation.
Thar is one of the most underdeveloped regions, not because there are no grand housing schemes and other facilities but because the locals are deprived of basic necessities of life: food, shelter and cloth. Although electrical supply goes on from Thar to the rest of Sindh, yet many localities in Thar have no power at all.
In addition, repetitive studies have shown that the Thar coal project would have disastrous consequences on public health, water security and environmental justice.
The community of Gorano faced multiple challenges of land acquisition and also an imminent threat of permanent displacement as toxic water from the mining sites is being pumped into a surface reservoir on their lands.
The old Senhri Dars village fell in the middle of the first coal mine of block 2 and the community was relocated to a new location with much fanfare to start a model village. The new Senhri dars projects paint a pleasant and vibrant image with “indigenously informed” architecture but the reality of life is bleak. Three hundred and twenty families live in 172 houses and none of the families now own any land. The right to legal ownership is not granted to these villagers nor have the promises of employment and access to Gowchar (grazing lands) been fulfilled.
Through divide and rule policy the SECMC allotted grazing lands to villagers by engineering a conflict between two communities who were peacefully living together.
A village Bhavay Joo Thar is surrounded by coal infrastructure projects and looks like a village in siege.
The villages near the mines( Khario Ghulam shah,Talwaiyo and Verwai) face similar fate. Communities have reported a whole host of problems with land acquisition, compensation amounts, grazing lands, livestock loss, increased securitization, lack of privacy, lack of employment and mistreatment by coal companies. They are facing noise and dust pollution. They have reported a gradual loss of flora and fauna, and the outmigration of local animals.
Risky reservoirs of Nabisar and Vejhiyar are an engineering disaster, risking flooding, blocking natural drainage and cattle pathways, obstructing access to historical grazing lands, religious sites and graveyards, splitting village communities and ignoring locals suggestions to built constructions at distanced places from residential areas.
According to locals these projects translate to the oppression of nature and oppression of the rights of indigenous population. The inhabitants, therefore, are trying their best to save Karoonjhar and nearby villages from this ecological destruction inflicted by the avarice of capital. Woke Thari locals are spreading awareness throughout the region to make people realize about natural resources, ecology, environmental justice and indigenous rights.
Thar needs the attention of climate activists, officials and people in power to save mother nature. Karoonjhar being exploited as claimed by the locals should come under serious discussion. Governmental teams should visit Thar and nearby villages to keep check and balance. Thar is one of the richest natural resources districts in Sindh.
Thar coal project is old, but the excavation of granite from Karoonjhar is a fresh attack on nature. Since the Karoonjhar case came into public attention, the authorities have took notice and legally banned granite and china clay excavation. Yet, the project itself is a threat to locals and should be reconsidered.
The writer is the General Secretary of Progressive Students’ Collective.