Pond ‘stolen’ in Bihar’s Darbhanga: No action so far, locals allege such encroachments rampant

Around 200 out of 350 ponds in town encroached, filled up in last three decades, says activist

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Wednesday 03 January 2024
Ganga Sagar pond in Bihar, which has been encroached upon. Photo: By special arrangement

More than four days ago, a shocking story was reported widely — an entire pond was stolen in Darbhanga town in Bihar. The brazen act has had no conclusion yet, as no action has been taken so far to date, angering local residents. Local administrative authorities are playing the old game of issuing directives to subordinates to enquire into the case and take action.

On December 29, a government or public pond spread across 36 dismil at Neem Pokhar in ward no 4 of Visvidhalya police station in Darbhanga town was filled with soil, and a bamboo hut and bamboo boundary were erected to give the impression that the land belonged to someone.

The pond was previously used by local fishermen for fishing and growing water chestnuts and fox nuts, but it was unused for a few years and no tender was issued by the government for its commercial use, said local residents Mirtunjay Kumar and Mohan Mishra. 

Narayan Choudhary, convenor of Talaab Bachao Abhiyan (Save Lakes Campaign) in Darbhanga district, is upset with the pace of action, pointing out the sensitivity of the issue. “An entire pond in a residential locality disappeared. This is not possible in just a day or night, this was done by a powerful nexus in broad daylight and  the common folk have been silenced,” he alleged. 

Choudhary further alleged the land mafia had targeted and encroached upon 2-3 ponds at different locations across Darbhanga and the authorities were fully aware of the activities. “Recently, the land mafia filled a 13-acre pond. All of this is happening in direct contravention of National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders,” he said.

Darbhanga District Magistrate Rajeev Raushan stated that after this incident was reported, he contacted the local circle officer, who informed him that a case is pending in the local court regarding ownership of it.

However, Choudhary stated that the land mafia first encroached on the pond and filled it with soil and garbage to ensure that it disappeared. Despite Talaab Bachao Abhiyan raising the issue of authorities failing to comply with NGT orders, nothing has changed and pond encroachment and filling continue, he alleged.

“A case concerning pond encroachment is currently pending in the Patna High Court. However, local authorities lied to the court in their affidavit that no pond was encroached, when in fact, three ponds in Darbhanga town were filled up after being encroached,” Choudhary claimed. 

The Nagar Nigam also plays a role in ensuring ponds are unused, as they connect with the town’s sewerage system, the activist alleged. “Land mafia uses fake documents to encroach upon ponds and fill them up with the help of local authorities. They then claim the land is theirs,” he further said.  

Since the last decade, no one has been held accountable in Darbhanga for the encroachment of a number of ponds, Chaudhary claimed. “There is no official record of a land mafia being punished for encroaching on a pond here. The land mafia have no reason to fear laws or people like us who are fighting to save ponds,” he said. 

Around 200 out of a total 350 ponds in Darbhanga have been filled up in the last three decades, according to Choudhary. “Authorities have made no serious effort to save or protect ponds. According to local official records, only 100 to 125 ponds, both small and large, remain in Darbhanga town,” said Choudhary.

Darbhanga had 350 ponds in 1960, according to the district gazetteer. The number dipped to 250 in the 1990s, with fewer than 100 ponds now, according to data from the district municipality. 

The activist also questioned the state government’s much-touted Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission work to clear encroachment from ponds. “Despite huge money and other resources to implement to free ponds of encroachment, such a mission is only running on paper. The Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission was a good initiative, but there was a lack of direction on how to save or renovate ponds,” Choudhary stated.

Ponds in the flood-prone Koshi and Mithilanchal regions of north Bihar are being encroached on and filled up so that houses can be built on them. In a few cases, people have begun farming on them too. According to experts, with rising land prices, government ponds have become a soft target for mafias looking to make money.

In 2016, the state government launched a campaign to clear encroachments from water bodies in order to aid rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge and alleviate the state’s drinking water crisis. This initiative was part of the much-publicised Disaster Risk Reduction Roadmap 2015-2030, which required agencies to take action on water conservation.

It was claimed that waterbody conservation would focus on removing encroachment from ponds, lakes, canals, ahar pynes (traditional water harvesting systems), drains, water drainage channels and rivers.

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