HC raps officials for ‘pathetic’ condition of Maharashtra’s famed Lonar crater lake
The High Court had set up a panel to survey the lake and submit a report. Based on the report’s findings the court observed that authorities responsible for preserving the lake had failed in their responsibilities.Updated: Jul 07, 2020 19:38 IST
The Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday came down heavily on state bodies for failing to preserve the 113-hectare Lonar Crater Lake in Buldhana district.
The Lake, declared a notified National Geo-heritage Monument in 1979, had turned reddish-pink since June 9-10 due to high salinity, acidity (pH) and an algal bloom, the forest department had said. However, the exact reasons are yet to be confirmed by research bodies. The district collector and forest department both said the natural lake colour was restored last week following heavy rains.
The HC bench noted that the Geological Survey of India (GSI) had conducted a survey of the pink water and will submit a report within a week, while reports from scientific bodies such as the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Agarkar Research Institute, Pune will be submitted before the next hearing on July 22.
On Monday, the HC bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Anil Kilor was hearing hearing a 2009 petition by lawyer Kirti Atul Nipankar and others against various state bodies and it rapped the Buldhana district administration, Lonar municipal council, and public works department (PWD) for their indifference to previous HC orders, callous approach in conserving the lake. The court also cautioned that further disobedience of its orders could lead to contempt proceedings against erring authorities.
Based on submissions, the bench highlighted two issues of immediate concern, open defecation by Lonar citizens at the lake including in the area where the sewage treatment plant (STP) is located and discharge of sewage water from Lonar city freely entering the lake.
During the last hearing on June 15, the HC had taken cognisance of the change in lake’s colour, open defecation and improper sewage treatment and directed four senior lawyers to visit the crater and submit a status report. The inspection was undertaken on June 17.
“The inspection report has now been placed on record. We find that the situation at and around Lonar Lake is really pathetic,” the bench said in its 12-page order published on Tuesday.
“The pathetic situation has arisen mainly because of the indifference rather callous indifference of many of the authorities responsible in their own way for conservation and preservation of Lonar Crater Lake.”
Meanwhile, the bench took serious note of Buldhana collector’s alleged failures to implement HC directions and to attend court hearings, not even through video conferencing for the latest hearing and in person prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We are of the prima-facie view that the Buldhana collector.. has failed in discharging fundamental duties in the recent past, thereby owing an explanation to this court, for dislodgement of the prima facie impression,” the bench said.
Suman Chandra, district collector and magistrate, Buldhana said, “There has been no intentional negligence. Over the past three months, there was a delay due to Covid-19. Special efforts will be made to ensure that all directions of the HC are complied with at the earliest. Meanwhile, the lake colour has normalised after rain that led to dilution. The colour had turned pink due to the increased salinity.”
The bench also directed the civic body to furnish documental evidence of increased STP capacity (from 500 kilo litres per day to 1000 KLD) by July 22, and ensure untreated sewage is stopped from entering the lake within three days from the order date.
Located 500 km from Mumbai and over 90 km from Buldhana city, the oval shaped Lonar Lake is a part of the 383-hectare Lonar Wildlife Sanctuary declared on June 8, 2000.
The lake has an average diameter of over 6,000 feet and is 449-feet deep. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, it was formed by a meteorite impact between 35,000 and 50,000 years ago. It was identified as a unique geographical site by a British officer C J E Alexander in 1823. A combined area of 366-hectare of Lonar Lake and surrounding regions was first proposed to be declared as a Ramsar site, a wetland of ecological importance in 2017 by the state forest department.