Over 20,000 water bodies freed from encroachment in Bihar for rainwater harvesting

The state lost over 100,000 ponds in three decades, mostly to development projects

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Tuesday 31 August 2021

The Bihar government has recovered 20,363 of the state's 31,225 encroached water bodies, according to state officials. 

The restoration of these aquifers will help recharge groundwater and tackle climate change, Rajiv Roushan, director of the state’s Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission under which the work was carried out.

The department also aims to free up the remaining water resources soon, he added. “Encroachment-free water bodies will create space for rainwater harvesting. This will help millions of people in Bihar, a state prone to floods and drought.”

The government had identified 18,126 encroached public water bodies and 13,099 encroached wells, according to the latest Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission data. Of them, 16,786 public water bodies and 3,577 wells have been freed of encroachment.

Rejuvenation of thousands of waterbodies, including those freed from encroachment, is underway, according to Roushan. About 590 ponds, 10,594 wells and 13,646 ahar pynes (traditional floodwater harvesting structures) have been reclaimed and work is in progress in 697 ponds, 16,342 wells and 15,218 pynes, the official added.

The inspection team of the mission found 157,828 rainwater harvesting structures and 323,590 wells across the state. As many as 103,920 soak pits near public hand pumps have been constructed for rainwater harvesting and 127,950 more are being constructed. Hundreds of check dams have been constructed and more are in the pipeline, Roushan said. 

In the eastern state, 14 out of 50 districts are highly vulnerable to climate change, according to a recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology of Mandi and Guwahati, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

Water bodies, mainly ponds and ahar pynes, have become victims of mindless development, said water activist Ranjeev. He added: 

Hundreds of ponds have disappeared from drought-prone regions of Patna, Gaya, Kaimur, Rohtas, Bhojpur, Nawada, Aurangabad, Jehanabad and Arwal districts in the last three decades.

Till the early 1990s, there were 250,000 ponds in Bihar, according to official records. Since then, the number has declined to less than 100,000. 

The Patna branch of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences was constructed after filling 35 acres of lakes, he said. “Many parks have also come up on lakes and ponds.”

In flood-prone Koshi belt and Mithilanchal region in the state’s north, ponds are being encroached upon for building houses, the expert added. In a few cases, people have started farming on them too.

This can adversely affect water harvesting during monsoon and subsequently, underground water availability during summer, according to activists.

A normal monsoon had a good impact but the Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission also played a role in the improvement of the state’s groundwater levels, said Bihar rural development minister Sharvan Kumar. 

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