Sambhar Master Plan

A heritage-based approach to wetland conservation through the Ramsar Document on Culture and Wetlands in India

Sambhar (pop. 22,000) is located in Rajasthan 65km from Jaipur, and is a town of great cultural significance. It also lies directly on the banks of Sambhar Lake, the largest salt lake in India and designated Ramsar Site due to its significance as a bird habitat and unique ecological characteristics.

The vast cultural significance of the town of Sambhar is directly related to Sambhar Lake. The lake has been used as a source of salt production from the 6th century AD, which is also around the time when historians pinpoint that the present-day town was founded by King Vasudev of the Chauhan Dynasty. Over time, salt production of the lake, as well as the town itself, has passed through the hands of Mughal and Rajput dynasties, and finally by the British in 1870 until independence in 1947. These different influences have created a multi-dimensional urban fabric representing all these phases. Sambhar also has a significant religious history. It is believed that the lake was a gift by Mata Shakambhari about 2500 years ago, and is an important religious site for both Hindus and Muslims.

A view of Sambhar LakeSambhar Lake has great cultural significance

Today, salt production continues to define Sambhar, and most of the town is employed through the salt industry. In addition to Sambhar Salts Limited, the company that now controls the legal extraction of salt, there are also many unregulated private salt industries whose practices erode groundwater hydrology and threaten Sambhar’s ecological health through desertification. This has many implications on the town as it threatens wildlife habitats, religious traditions, architecture, the people who depend on the lake for their livelihoods and also the lake itself.

In 2010 the State of Rajasthan commissioned a master plan for Sambhar through the Department of Town Planning in Jaipur. Lavanya Architects were charged with creating the plan while DRONAH which had earlier worked on a Heritage Tourism Development Plan for Sambhar through the Department of Art and Culture, offered to provide input of heritage components for the Master Plan on a voluntary basis. The Sambhar Master Plan is part of the state-wide initiative by the Government of Rajasthan to create master plans for all towns and villages of 10,000 people or more in order to improve infrastructure and quality of life. There was an opportunity in Sambhar to create a heritage-based master plan that went further and focused on its cultural and natural resources as well. DRONAH researched and wrote the heritage portion of the document, which contains the main guidelines and policy recommendations.

Sambhar Lake: cultural value and salt production

The master plan for Sambhar was specifically designed to combat its threats by controlling the unregulated salt industry and stabilizing the ecology, while also establishing guidelines to restore the architectural and religious heritage of the town of Sambhar. The master plan used the Ramsar Guidance Document on Culture and Wetlands as a basis for creating policy and a management plan that valued both the ecological and cultural characteristics of Sambhar Lake and the town of Sambhar. Using the typologies outlined in chapters 3 and 4 of the guidance document, DRONAH was able tailor the master plan specifically to the needs of Sambhar Lake, Sambhar and the entire catchment area. The Culture and Wetlands guidance document also recognized the need for human settlements, industry and wetlands to coexist and require management plans to incorporate all these aspects. This cooperation is crucial for Sambhar’s sustainable growth. Another important aspect of the guidance document is the “recognition of the position of indigenous peoples and local communities.”1 Sambhar’s residents, as well as all those living within the catchment area, depend on the lake for economic and religious reasons. Neglecting to include their needs in the long-term management process would render the master plan ineffective.

To date, the Sambhar Master Plan has been completed and is currently being reviewed by the State Government of Rajasthan for approval. For Ramsar sites that are located in areas of cultural significance, the Culture and Wetlands guidance document is an effective tool for creating sustainable long-term management goals.

Written by: Eleni Glekas

1Papayannis, T. and Pritchard, D.E. (2008), ‘Culture and wetlands – a Ramsar guidance document’, Ramsar Convention, Gland, Switzerland, p. 7.

More information on Sambhar Lake Ramsar Site

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