Various government departments have begun to take measures to conserve the Lonar crater in Buldhana district, including prohibiting any further construction, vacating farmers from the crater, preventing town sewage from flowing into the crater etc. However, social activists and researchers working there say the conservation work still has a long way to go.
Lonar crater is the only natural crater formed in basaltic rocks anywhere on earth due to the impact of a meteor, about 5,70,000 (plus or minus 47,000 years) ago in the Pleistocene Epoch.
President of Lonar Municipal Council Ranjana Mapari told TOI that the administration has already vacated 22 hectare land inside the crater occupied by local farmers over decades. Cultivation of crops, which was causing damage to the microflora of the lake due to fertilizers and pesticides, has been stopped completely. The forest department has begun to replace this area with forest trees. “With the help of Nagpur based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri), a sewage water treatment plant using phytorid technology of 5 lakh litre per day capacity plant has been set up. Since sewage from all over the town is now directed to this plant, pollution in the Crater Lake has stopped,” she said.
Mapari said that the single slum on one side of the crater’s rim will be shifted to a housing colony coming up under the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna. Of the 900 houses planned here, work on 400 houses has been completed. However, unless water and electric supply are completed to the houses people will not shift there. “As per directives of the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, this shifting should be completed by June 6, 2016. But no measures have been taken as yet for residents of the main Lonar town, who are living around the four heritage temples,” she said.
Superintending archaeologist of excavation branch and Nagpur circle of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Nandini Bhattacharya Sahu, who has recently started conservation work on 15 temples in Lonar (10-14 century AD), said that though she can’t stop people from bathing at the Gaimukh temple, the staff posted there is ensuring that people don’t use soap or detergents. She said that the Lonar temples and the Gawilgarh fort near Chikhaldara have been brought under the ‘Must See’ monuments list on the new portal of ministry of cultural affairs, and hence the restoration work of these temples has started. “Work of cleaning and conserving the steps going down from Gaimukh to the crater is complete. Work on Kumareshwar and Yajneshwar temples, which were completely in dilapidated state is already on,” said Sahu.
Buldhana deputy conservator of forest BT Bhagat told TOI that he had prepared a proposal for removal of the Bedibabul (Prosopif juliflora) trees, which multiply naturally and are capable of spreading over the entire crater in a few years. “We plan to remove trees in at least seven hectare every year and complete the work in five years over 35 hectares land under these trees. They are very harmful as they can overcome the entire local plant species and destroy the ecology, killing aviflora and avifauna of the salt water lake. We would be rooting out each tree completely so that it does not grow again. Also, to prevent further growth, we would be replacing these trees with medicinal plants and fruit trees,” said Bhagat.
The forest department is also repairing the broken barbed wire fencing around the crater over around 10km. Guards have also been posted round the clock at the two entry points at Kini and Nabi, to restrict entry of local village animals and people.
Is govt messing up devpt plan?
Though the administration has initiated some work to prevent further deterioration of Lonar Crater, activists fighting the crater for over three-and-a-half decades claim that the administration is messing up the entire development plan and not respecting court orders too. Sudhakar Bugdane, a senior citizen and retired principal of Shivaji Junior College, is extremely critical of the existing situation even with the ongoing developments.
“The local municipal body, while preparing the town planning map, has misled the people here by saying that the restriction of not having any new constructions etc applies to just first 100m of the crater circumference, which has been marked as the eco-sensitive zone. However, as per court directives, the restrictions are for 500m, which would cover almost half the village. Even the central government in its notification of Lonar Eco-Sensitive zone has not included government bodies like ASI and Geological Survey of India (GSI). It has only included state departments and officials,” said Bugdane.
Bugdane, however, expressed satisfaction that sewage has stopped flowing into the crater, the fencing work by forest, stopping of annual navratri yatra where people would go right into the carter for the Kamanji mandir, the weekly markets etc
Advocate Anand Parchure, amicus curie in the filed by advocate Kriti Nipankar, Bugdane and others told TOI that he would be challenging the state government notification dated November 21, 2014, wherein the administration is allowing construction within 300m in the restricted zone (RZ)-IIA of tents, parking, public toilets and other tourist amenities. Even in RZ-IIB, the notification allows construction of residential, public, semi-public buildings excluding the area of ASI. “This is complete violation of the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court, which had issued directives there should be no further constructions in 500m of the rim. It is contrary to the public interest. It is defeating the very purpose of the protected area,” said Parchure.
In a hearing on March 10, the court was appraised about the central government notification of gazette of India dated November 20, 2015, creating an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) in 100m around the Lonar Wildlife Sanctuary. The notification has directed the state government to prepare a Zonal Master Plan for ESZ. The court has asked the lawyers to study the notification and update the court in next hearing on March 31.
CONSERVING LONAR CRATER
Farmers cultivating 22ha in crater vacated, ending flow of fertilizers or pesticides into Lonar lake
Sewage from town no longer flowing into lake, bringing PH of lake under control
Forest department fencing its 3.83sq km wildlife sanctuary
ASI has begun conservation of 15 temples in and around the lake
Weekly markets shifted
Slum to be shifted to a housing colony being constructed
Annual navratri festival inside crater stopped
Khandoba talab near Gaimukh reconstructed
WHAT MORE IS NEEDED
Divert three roads from Lonar to Hyderabad (Mantha)
Removing babul trees from crater
Make public toilets for tourists away from the rim
Shifting government offices like panchayat samiti, tehsil and treasury
Shift Hindu and Muslim crematoriums from the rim
Remove houses from temple complexes
Shift municipal council office opposite Daityasudan mandir
Prevent bathing by tourists and visitors to temples
Levy entry fees to generate revenue for maintenance of crater
Stopping storm water collected from town flowing into the crater
Preventing any further construction within 500m of the rim
Regular monitoring of pH of the lake
Conservation of flora, fauna including bird species of the area
Create facilities to attract tourists
Ensure Sarovar Samvardhan Committee meets regularly and submits its report to the court