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Bihar: Authorities yet to Take Action to Save Ponds in Darbhanga Despite NGT Order

The NGT order asked the authorities to implement a plan to restore the ponds and protect them from encroachment.

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Patna: More than two weeks after National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order to restore three big ponds in the Darbhanga district of Bihar, authorities have yet to take any initiative.

Considering this, environmental activists demanded immediate intervention from the state government to comply with last month's NGT order to restore three ponds. They have termed the NGT's last month's order to restore centuries-old ponds, threatened by illegal encroachment and increasing pollution, a positive move to save and conserve them for coming generations.

However, concerned authorities are not eager to take action to free three ponds, considered heritage water bodies of the Mithilanchal region of the state, from encroachment to protect them.

A senior official of the forest, environment and climate change department told NewsClick that the first NGT order would be placed in a meeting. After that, a plan will be made to implement it.

"This will take some time".

According to the NGT order, "The three ponds, namely, Dighi, Harai and Ganga Sagar, in Darbhanga district of Bihar, shall be restored to their pristine glory and their embankments shall be strengthened by planting grass and natural shrubs and trees to provide an eco-friendly landscape which can be used by the public for recreation."

The order said, "All illegal constructions leading into three ponds and encroachments shall be removed within three months, and drains leading into the three Ponds/Water Bodies are completely diverted from the said water bodies. Effective sewage management shall be put in place".

The NGT had constituted a committee under the chairmanship of additional chief secretary, department of environment, the government of Bihar.

The NGT said the committee should address itself to the observations and the recommendations made in the Inspection report of the committee constituted by the Tribunal and take expeditious remedial measures. The committee has also been instructed to remove the encroachments expeditiously and ensure that the three ponds are restored to their pristine glory.

The NGT has directed that the committee hold its first meeting within 15 days hereof and then hold meetings regularly every four months to appraise the remedial actions proposed and taken from time to time.

"I was informed by the officials of the concerned department that the committee has yet to hold its first meeting as directed by the NGT. This itself exposed the authorities' seriousness," Narayanjee Choudhary, who runs the Talab Bachao Abhiyan (TBA), the man behind the Save the Ponds movement in Darbhanga for years, told NewsClick.

The NGT's order is based on the report submitted by an inspection committee that was constituted by the NGT last year after hearing a petition filed by TBA.

Choudhary said TBA had raised issues, including illegal encroachment and how untreated sewage and wastewater were being discharged through drainage by Darbhanga junction as well as municipal corporation directly into the Dighi pond, due to which flora and fauna of the pond were severely affected.

"We have submitted a letter to Darbhanga District Magistrate to take a phase-wise beautification and renovation work of three ponds keeping sustainable development and suggested to take technical help from experts of IIT Kanpur, NIT Patna and others."

Last year, NGT eastern zone based in Kolkata ordered a blanket ban on illegal construction around Darbhanga three ponds –which have been widely seen as lifelines of people for centuries. Choudhary said NGT's ban resulted from TBA's initiative to create awareness to save and conserve ponds in Darbhanga at a time when ponds are disappearing faster, thanks to the negligence of the district administration and non-seriousness of the concerned department officials responsible for protecting ponds.

In recent years, TBA has staged several dharnas and taken out street marches to oppose the illegal encroachment of ponds and illegal construction.

Choudhary pointed out that the three ponds are in the heart of Darbhanga and are interconnected. They are historical and rare pieces of water bodies. Ganga Sagar, Dighi and Harahi, from North to South, have a total length of 1.8 km, divided by two roads from East to West at Railway Station Chowk and Donar Chowk.

The flood-prone Darbhanga and other neighbouring districts of the Mithilanchal region are known as hubs of ponds. However, many have been encroached upon by powerful people or dried up over the years due to negligence. Following the water crisis in the city, Darbhanga district magistrate Thiyagarajan SM constituted four separate teams of officials to survey the ponds.

Choudhary said there was documentary evidence of more than 300 ponds in Darbhanga town in the 1960s; by the 1990s, the number had come down to 200, and now, it is less than 100.

The government launched a campaign in 2019 to free water bodies from encroachment and to help rainwater harvesting and groundwater conservation to tide over times of drought, flood and drinking water crisis in the state – it is now linked to the much-publicised Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission of Bihar, under which farmers get a subsidy to create ponds.

This campaign is part of the Disaster Risk Reduction Roadmap 2015-2030, which mandates action for water conservation by concerned agencies. It was then claimed that the operation to conserve water bodies would focus on removing encroachment of ponds, lakes, canals, ahar and pines (traditional water harvesting systems), drains, water drainage channels and rivers.

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