New Delhi, March 5: The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a petition seeking protection of the Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan from large-scale encroachment by illegal salt-mining units.
Sambhar, at 96sqkm the country’s largest saltwater lake, is a major source of salt and attracts flamingos and many other species of migratory birds in winter.
The bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra asked the petitioner’s counsel to serve a copy of the petition on the Centre and the Rajasthan government before it took up further hearing.
“Apart from the flamingo, pelican, common redshank, common sandpiper, black-winged stilt, Kentish plover, ringed plover, ruff and sociable lapwing are other winged visitors to the Sambhar Lake, which face threats similar to those faced by the flamingos,” petitioner Naresh Kadyan has claimed.
He says the number of visiting flamingos fell from almost five lakh in 1982-83 to a mere 20,000 in 2008.
“This situation is the result of (the) mushrooming of a large number of unregulated private salt manufacturers who steal saline water from the lake,” the petition says.
It accuses the salt manufacturers of digging unauthorised bore wells around the lake and laying pipelines that sometimes extend several kilometres into the lake.
“The pipelines have been dug... to illegally extract water from the lake to manufacture salt. The situation is worsening every year and reaching a point where the existence of the Sambhar Lake (would be) under threat,” the petition says.
It adds that the lake faces other threats too, such as large-scale erosion of the area’s topsoil by private salt units, restriction of its water supply by small dams built in its catchment areas, trespass by villagers’ vehicles, unregulated tourism and poor drainage.
Apart from its geological and biological importance, the lake is also a site of commercial importance. About 21 lakh tonnes of salt is produced each year from its waters, making Rajasthan one of India’s biggest salt-producing states.
The petition has sought a direction to the state and the Central Groundwater Conservation Board to remove the illegal bore wells and salt units from the Sambhar Lake area and stop any other illegal activities there.