Conservationist Bandu Dhotre finally ended his indefinite hunger strike last week, after the 12-day-long fight to conserve the Ramala lake situated in his hometown Chandrapur in Maharashtra.
Dhotre's way of shaking the sleeping authorities who are responsible to protect the environment is by starving himself until the concerned administration and policy-makers ensure rolling back their decision. He has gone on indefinite hunger strikes more than eight times, to voice concern for saving tigers, prohibiting coal mines in forest areas, curbing pollution and so forth.
For the Ramala lake, the fight has been going on for a decade now. Speaking to The Logical Indian, Dhotre shared the reason behind taking extreme steps to conserve the 550-year-old lake.
The city has already lost five lakes to encroachment and other anthropogenic activities, including Kangara, Tukum, Ghutwala, Gauri and Lal. The 97-acre Ramala lake is the last remaining lake of Chandrapur city.
Dhotre, who runs a Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Eco Pro, has been fighting for the lake since 2009. The local administration back then cleaned the lake and removed weeds, but it was not useful because the desilting process was not done correctly, further deteriorating the lake's condition. This also polluted the nearby water bodies and the groundwater sources. When the residents tested their borewell and well water, they found it highly polluted.
"I have been fighting since 2009 for the lake's conservation. It was built to provide drinking water to the city. Gond Kings created this for the welfare of the people. But this is a sad state of affairs. If we can't create once, at least let's save what is left for us," Dhotre said.
The lake is also polluted by urea and sulphate drained during the monsoon season from the adjoining railway siding, where the fertilisers are unloaded.
Even the sewage water did not undergo the chemical, physical and biological procedure for removing the contaminants. It was one of the leading causes of contamination in several water bodies in the city.
On January 26, thousands of fishes were found dead near the lake's bank, indicating the effect of pollution on aquatic life.
Even though the government has initiated various programs and policies, they haven't been implemented at the district/local level. The officers have done little to mitigate the problem, he added.
Dhotre also said the Chandrapur Municipal Corporation did not abide by the National green Tribunals (NGT) 2019 order. He along with other conservationists continuously followed up with authorities for years. The budget was made, but they didn't release the funds. "Every year, the officer changes, and so do their promises."
He informed that Chandrapur is one of Maharashtra's most polluted cities because of the number of coal mines located in the area.
He said his efforts to persuade the administration to save the lake over the past 12 years had little effect, forcing him to sit on a hunger strike.
It was only after his hunger strike that authorities have assured to take stringent measures to clean up the lake. The members of the organisation demanded funds from the administration to save the lake. Apart from this, they have demanded to frame a policy to preserve the leftover water bodies and maintain groundwater.
Cabinet Minister of Tourism and Environment Aditya Thakeray has given a go-ahead to the administration for a proposal laying down measures to preserve the lake.