Mana caves inaccessible due to quarry dug by WCL

by Mazhar Ali, TNN, 13 July 2009

CHANDRAPUR, India -- Those visiting the Mana opencast mine come across a tiny island having 2,000-year-old Buddhist caves standing tall between an over hundred-metre deep quarry.

After a hue and cry by the social and Buddhist organisations and objection from the district administration, WCL authorities spared the ancient caves from demolition, but dug up a deep quarry around it literary making the historic site inaccessible.

TOI had repeatedly raised the issue of protection and conservation of the ancient site through its reports, but WCL's greed for coal has now pushed the ancient monument to the verge of destruction.

According to historians, the ancient caves belong to the Heniyan sect of Buddhism and are around 2,000 years old. It used to be a place of worship and meditation in the first century AD.

The caves got the name Mana from the Nag dynasty of the Mana community that ruled the area in 9th century AD and later accepted Buddhism. Carved from a single solid rock, the four caves, adjacent to each other, come under the area of Hindustan Lalpeth Open Cast (HLOC), a sub-area of WCL.

Since the last few months, HLOC has begun excavation of around 300 sq metres of land having around 8 lakh metric tons of coal underneath just near the historic site.

"In the early days of excavation they (WCL authorities) had left a narrow approach road that connected the site with the main land, but now that too has been excavated. The quarry is more than hundred metres deep and surrounds the block of land bearing the ancient caves making it an island, which is not accessible anymore," said Ashoksingh Thakur, Chandrapur chapter convener of Indian National Trust for Art Culture and Heritage (Intach).

Thakur added that the caves were already endangered because of the high magnitude blasting, but now the land bearing the caves has been carved into the island therefore the threat to the Buddhist structure has increased.

"In spite of the assurance given by WCL authorities to preserve the ancient historic structure, the blasting had created several cracks in the ancient caves. Now that coal is being extracted from the foot of island at a the depth of more than 100 metres, some day the entire overhead structure will crumble into the pieces," fears Thakur.

Few months ago, following reports about the threat to the ancient Buddhist structure, NGOs and Buddhist organisations had taken up the issue with the district administration. Activists of Sambodhi Buddhist Cultural Society had staged a demonstration before the CGM's office, Chandrapur area and had sought assurance for protection of the caves in writing.

Following the hue and cry, the district collector and even the National Commission for Minorities had intervened and urged the WCL management to ensure the safety of the site.

However, it appears that after the dust of the protest settled, mine authorities went ahead with their plan and literary turned the historic monument into inaccessible island.
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