Chandrapur: Four ancient Buddhist caves that were known as Mana caves, located around 3 kms from here, were destroyed during the routine mining activity of the Mana Opencast Mines of Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) on Wednesday.
    
The caves were approximately 2,000-year-old. This incident, which came to the notice of people on Thursday, has invited sharp criticism from various quarters.
    
There were four rock-cut caves on Mana Tekri on the outskirts of the city. It was in the vicinity of Hindustan Lalpeth Opencast Mines of WCL. The area, including the land where the caves were located, was allotted to WCL.
    
Former District Collector Pradeep Kalbhor had issued letters to the WCL in 2009 asking it to stop mining activities around Mana Caves with immediate effect. However, the WCL still continued with the mining activities using explosives, destroying the ancient caves.
   
There was a Hanuman temple in the vicinity of the caves and the WCL authorities shifted it to a safer place, when the issue was taken up by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajarang Dal leaders in the month of March this year. However the issue of historic cave was ignored then.
     
Ashok Singh Thakur, a historian and Convener of local Chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had taken up the issue of saving the caves.
    
He said the destroyed caves dated back from the first century BC and were used by Buddhist monks for prayers and meditation.
    
Singh blamed the District Guardian Minister Sanjay Deotale, who is also the Minister for Cultural Affair and Environment for the loss. He added that Deotale had been apprised of the issue on July 1, 2011.
 
District Collector Vijay Waghmare said that WCL had not obtained any permission for the demolition of caves. He also assured to take up the issue with the State Archaeology Department.
    
Assistant Director, State Archaeology, Anand Bhoyar maintained that even though the caves were not listed as protected monuments, no one including WCL, had the authority to destroy these "historically important monuments."
    
"Indeed, hundreds of years old caves were historical and INTACH had extensively dealt with the issue of safety of the caves. As per a state government’s circular, it is the responsibility of a local authority, in this case WCL, to ensure protection and conservation of unlisted historical monuments. It is unfortunate that the caves were demolished," said Bhoyar.
    
Member of Parliament Hansraj Ahir termed the destruction of ancient caves as indispensable loss to history and culture.
    
"The caves were a cultural heritage of Chandrapur and their destruction is unpardonable," he said.
    
He blamed WCL as well as the district administration for the loss and demanded strong action against the officials.
    
MLA Nana Shamkule termed it as assault on Indian culture. "I had warned WCL against damaging the ancient Buddhist caves and given a letter to District Collector asking him to ensure its safety. However none of the two authorities replied to my letter," he said.
    
Buddhist leaders are fuming over the demolition of historic Buddhist caves. Veteran Buddhist and Republican leader V D Meshram warned of intense agitation if the administration failed to take action against the WCL.
    
Meanwhile, Chief General Manager of WCL (Chandrapur Area) T N Jha was not available for comments.

(Agencies)