Climate Change

Desertification in India: Mining erodes soil, water table dips in Jharkhand

Water table in Barkitand village of Giridih district has fallen from 8 metre below the ground level in 2013 to about 10 m in 2017

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Friday 30 August 2019
A stream by the Barkitand village in Giridih, Jharkhand
This stream is the water source for Barkitand village in Jharkhand's Giridih district. It  turns muddy and unusable during the monsoon. Photo: Ishan Kukreti This stream is the water source for Barkitand village in Jharkhand's Giridih district. It turns muddy and unusable during the monsoon. Photo: Ishan Kukreti

Undulating topography is a major factor for soil erosion in most parts of Jharkhand. “Undulating toposequences of the state combined with rainfed agriculture have led to massive degradation of soil, diverse agricultural practices and low productivity,” according to a 2015 Niti Aayog report on Jharkhand.

Jharkhand, a primarily rural state, has in the recent years faced the brunt of extreme weather events. Between 2000 and 2014, the state experienced the highest number of heatwaves in its history, according to the Jharkhand Climate Action Plan of 2014.

A study published in ScienceDirect in April 2018, showed that central, southwestern and northern regions of the state experienced a temperature increase of 0.077-0.54 degrees Celsius between 1984 and 2014 and a 26-270 millimetre decline in cumulative rainfall.

Jharkhand is among the five states (the others are Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa) where 50 per cent of the total area is under desertification and land degradation, according to the Land degradation and Desertification Atlas prepared by the Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad.

In Giridih, where 74 per cent of the district is under degradation — the highest in the state — another factor is at play. It is part of the Dhanbad mining circle which has the highest coal mine leases (131) in the country and over 500 minor mineral mines.

Giridih has the third-highest number of operational or working minor mineral leases in the state, while adjoining Dhanbad district has the highest number of working coal mine leases (56).

Between 2005 and 2017, the Union government’s ‘State of Forests’ report showed that while the percentage of area under forest compared with the total geographical area of Giridih has slightly increased — from 820 square kilometre in 2005 to 890 sq km in 2017 — the ‘very dense forest’ (canopy density more than 70 per cent) has declined at the expense of ‘open forest’ (canopy density between 10 and 40 per cent). The ‘very dense forest’ has reduced from 98 sq km to 77 sq km.

Between the 2001 and 2011 census, Giridih’s urban population grew at a rate of around 15 per cent turning the city from a Class II town (0.5-0.99 million population) to a Class I town (1 million and above population). In fact, the number of towns in the state went up to 228 according to Census 2011, from 152 (in Census 2001). And the impact is palpable across the district.

“Strangely, the arrival of monsoon heralds water conflicts,” said Surajmuni Hasda of Barkitand village in Giridih. “Sukha nala, a stream flowing by the village, is our only source of water, but as soon as the region receives the first rain, its water becomes muddy and cannot be used. The 70-odd families of our village have to go to nearby villages where hand pumps still yield some water. But most return empty handed,” he explained. “They say we will exhaust their water too,” he added.

All the wells and tube wells in the village have dried up in just 10 years. Data with the Central Ground Water Board shows that water table in the entire block has lowered from 8 metre below the ground level in 2013 to about 10 m in 2017. 

When the last hand pump of the village went dry in 2009, a new hand pump was set up in the school premise with a depth of around 350 feet, said Jamil Kiske, the deputy village head. “Now it too is going dry,” Kiske said.

Cyril Marandi, a teacher at the school, said the number of children in the school in low as because of the scarcity of water the school is not able to provide mid day meal.

“Even the construction of a new building is pending as due to the shortage of water the budget to make it here is more than in other areas. The authorities do not approve the increased budget,” he said.  

“Since 2015-16, under the Coverage of Fallow Land scheme we are providing farmers with a monetary incentive of Rs 2,400 per hectare to grow anything that they like on fallow land to increase the vegetative growth on the land and prevent soil erosion,” said Dheerendra Kumar Pandy, district agriculture officer, Giridih. But in this era of Anthropocene, when agriculture has become unprofitable, there are few takers for the scheme.

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