In a move that has left green activists worried, the Centre has shrunk the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) around the meteor-crater Lonar lake in Buldhana district to 100 metres from 500 metres. The one-of-its-kind Lonar crater was created by a meteor impact around 50,000 years ago. Activists fighting for its preservation have written to the environment ministry to reconsider its November 2015 notification, given the great significance the site holds for the global scientific community.
In the letter, Sudhakar Bugdane, a retired principal of a local college who has been fighting for the protection of the crater for more than 30 years, has said, “The Lonar Wildlife Sanctuary has been especially created to conserve the crater created by a meteor impact about 50,000 years ago in the basaltic rock. This phenomenon has generated saline water (with pH value more than 10.5), full of microbial life of rare type of bacteria and blue green algae. Development of geomagnetic field is another outcome of the said phenomenon… Many international scientists have claimed the study of this location’s geology will help understand other planets like Mars and Moon.”
Bugdane said the ecology of the crater-lake will be impacted adversely if the ESZ is restricted to 100 metres. The draft notification also mentions that the Lonar sanctuary houses tree species such as Anjan, Ashoka , Beheda, Babul, Bel, Chandan, Dhavda, Gulmohar, Hiver and Palash, and animals such as hyena, wolf, leopard, jungle cat and squirrel. This, Bugdane said, is “simply baseless, misleading and does not match ground realities”.
“The real values of the crater — its saline water, microbial life, algae, geomagnetism, rare mineral groups and other geo-morphological values — have been neglected (by the government),” he said.
Bugdane pointed out that the opinion of important stakeholders, such as the Archaeological Survey of India and the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism, which are key to the conservation of Lonar, have been ignored in the draft notification.
In 2006 and 2008, IIT-Kharagpur and Indian Institute of Geomagnetism, Mumbai, had written to the President of India and Maharashtra government respectively, to put in place a protection regimen for the crater, and ensure the 500-metre ESZ limitation around it was not flouted.
Also, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court had, in April last year, directed stopping of all construction and development activities within 500 metres of the crater-lake on a petition filed by a Nagpur lawyer Kirti Nipankar and Bugdane in 2009.
Lonar is the only meteor-impact crater formed in the basalt rock in the world and is visited by geologists, biologists, astrophysicists and tourists to get a sense of planetary creation, early microbial life and even a history of climate change over the past 50,000 years.
Rampant construction activity, including that by the Lonar Municipal Council, agriculture on land covered by the Ejecta Blanket (the material thrown up on the surrounding earth surface after meteor impact), contamination of the alkaline lake water with effluents, agriculture inside the crater etc have led to degradation of the basic character/of the meteor crater.