Bihar’s much-hyped Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali Abhiyan scheme is failing in its objective of effectively countering the challenges of water scarcity in the state with five large ponds and numerous wetlands in Muzaffarpur drying up in the name of modification and maintenance, and rampant encroachment.
Muzaffarpur’s Sikandarpur Lake and the pond in Darbhanga’s Lalit Narayan Mishra University (LNMU) are on the verge of extinction. The L-shaped largest wetland, located northwest of Muzaffarpur, is under pressure due to water diversion, land use modification, wastewater discharge and dumping. The lake, whose aesthetic beauty has deteriorated due to recent development and population growth, also faces environmental problems, including eutrophication.
Since the lake is in the middle of urban settlements, locals have encroached on it at several places. More than half of the new urban settlements have come up after filling wetlands, which is the main reason for water-logging in the city during monsoons. The encroachments are happening right under the nose of the district administration, claims local environmental activist Anil Prakash.
Landfill on Sikandarpur Lake.
The filling of the lake is a common sight with real estate barons on an expansion spree. Dr. Shahab Shabbir, a researcher on Sikandarpur Lake who has flagged the menace with evidence, said that the lake’s deterioration started decades ago primarily due to rampant filling, construction of hospitals, residential complexes, and dumping of waste.
Mallahs, Dusaadhs, Musahars, Nuts, Pasis (the predominant backward communities among Hindus), backward Muslims and Christians, and Jains used to reside on the lakeside. Gradually, they left as their sources for livelihood dried up.
“Muzaffarpur alone constitutes 2.6 per cent of Bihar’s total wetland area. The drainage system was neglected for a long time, which later led to water-logging in the city,” says Shabbir, Shahab, who wrote his thesis on ‘International Law relating to Wetlands Conservation and its enforcement in India’.
Malti Devi, a fish-seller residing near Sikandarpur Stadium, is a witness to the rapid deterioration of the lake in the past decade. “Construction of houses and landfills for setting up small factories is a common sight,” she says.
Once rich with medicinal plants and fish, the lake has become a dumping ground for medical waste with sacks of used syringes, medicine strips and cartons floating on its edges. Five decades ago, residents considered the lake as a ‘coolant’ that kept the weather pleasant even during harsh summers, say locals.
According to the National Wetland Atlas, prepared by the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Institute of Environmental Studies and Wetland Management in 2010, wetlands cover 4.4 per cent (4,03,209 hectares) of Bihar’s geographical area. Total 4,416 major and 17,582 small wetlands (measuring less than 2.25 hectares) were identified. Natural water bodies comprise about 92 per cent of the wetlands while manmade water bodies account for about 3.5 per cent.
Launched in 2018, the Jal-Jeevan-Hariyali Abhiyan aimed to remove encroachments on 9,044 ponds. However, according to
state fisheries minister Mukesh Sahni, encroachments had been removed from only 531 ponds as of March 16 this year.
The Department of Revenue and Land Reforms July report states that locals have encroached 45 per cent of the 72, 960 public ponds, lakes and wetlands (riverine and non- riverine).
The concretisation of LNMU Pond.
The pond in Darbhanga is also losing its ecosystem in the name of beautification, alleges city-based renowned environmentalist Narayan Ji Choudhary. The century-old pond, situated in the middle of the university campus, was once famous for its beauty and a breeding place for different species of fish, insects, birds, etc. But rapid concretisation, aimed at attracting visitors, is eroding its beauty.
Choudhary wrote to the vice-chancellor and registrar of LNMU reminding the gross violation of National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystem, 2019, and Indicative Guidelines for Restoration of Water Bodies. Dismantling the pond’s natural dike will reduce its recharging area during monsoons, leading to slow death, he further wrote, adding that the beautification is being done without consulting a wetland or water body expert.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Bihar. The views are personal.