The first ever water bodies Census revealed that a total of more than 38,000 water bodies across India are encroached or about 1.6% of all enumerated water bodies. While this share was 2.5% in Urban areas, not a single urban water body encroachment was reported from Karnataka contrary to many other reports.
India, despite having multiple freshwater sources, is under water stress now. Water bodies are stressed due to the growing demand on account of increasing population, negligence, pollution, and exploitation. On top of these, water bodies are being encroached for human activities. This increases impervious cover adjacent to these water bodies like rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and causes variations in runoff rate, volume, temperature, and loading of sediments. The functions of the water bodies are significantly affected resulting in a decline in water quality, disturbance in equilibrium conditions, and loss of terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Encroachment, among others, has been cited as a reason for the severe floods in metro cities in recent years.
First ever census on water bodies provides data on encroachment of water bodies
The first-ever census report on water bodies undertaken by the Ministry of Jal Shakti was released recently. The report provides valuable insights into the water bodies in India by providing important information such as the size of the water body, usage, status of encroachments, storage capacity, and recovery works, among others. Factly had earlier published a story on this census along with an analysis of the distribution of water bodies across the country. We also looked into the useability of these 24.24 lakh water bodies and the reasons behind the same in another story. In this story, we look at the figures pertaining to encroachment of these water bodies, that have been collected for the first time, during this census exercise. We use data from the first water body census that is available on Dataful for analysis.
The report defines encroachment of water bodies as the illegal entry into the defined boundary of the water body for various human activities like construction, agriculture, etc. Out of the 24.24 lakh water bodies enumerated in the census, a total of 38,496 water bodies, or 1.6% were reported as encroached.
4 states account for 80% of the encroached water bodies
State-wise data reveals that Uttar Pradesh had the greatest number of water bodies encroached, with 15,301 followed by Tamil Nadu with 8,366. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have also recorded more than 3,000 encroached water bodies each. Together, these 4 states account for almost 80% of the total water bodies encroached in the country.
However, the share of water bodies encroached across states gives a clearer picture since the number of water bodies enumerated in each state varies. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, 3,920 water bodies are encroached out of the total 1.9 lakh water bodies enumerated in the state. This number is much larger than the total number of water bodies enumerated in the northeastern states.
About 1 in 4 water bodies in Delhi have been encroached
In terms of the percentage of water bodies encroached as against the total number of water bodies enumerated in the respective states, it is seen that the variation across states is huge. It ranges from less than 1% in states like Odisha, Kerala, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra to more than 24% in Delhi. After Delhi, Punjab has the highest share of water bodies encroached with nearly 10% followed by Tamil Nadu with nearly 8% and Uttar Pradesh with 6.2%. The chart below depicts the top 10 states/UTs with the highest share of water bodies encroached as compared to the national figure.
Share of encroached water bodies in urban areas is higher than that in rural areas
The report also highlights that most of the encroached water bodies, 95.4%, are in rural areas and urban areas account for the remaining 4.6%. This disparity is because the number of water bodies enumerated in rural areas is much more than that in urban areas. A total of 24,24,540 water bodies have been enumerated for the Census, out of which 97.1% (23.5 lakh water bodies) are in rural areas and only 2.9% (69,485) are in urban areas. Out of the 23.5 lakh water bodies in rural areas, 36,736 water bodies are encroached while in urban areas, 1,760 water bodies are encroached. This can also be read as 1.6% of the water bodies enumerated in rural areas were encroached as compared to 2.5% in urban areas.
This disparity is also evident across states. Nearly 39% of the water bodies in urban areas of Delhi are encroached as against 23.4% in rural areas. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, the share of encroached water bodies in urban areas is more than 13% while in rural areas it is less than 8%. Likewise, 11.3% of the water bodies in urban Telangana are encroached compared to 4.6% in rural parts of the state. Such disparity in rural and urban figures is visible in states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Puducherry, and Gujarat. It is also observed that the number of encroached water bodies in urban parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and West Bengal where some of the major Indian cities are located, is reported as zero. This number requires scrutiny as India’s CAG had earlier flagged large-scale encroachment of lakes/drains and depletion of natural drainage systems in Bengaluru.
More than 50% of the area is encroached for about 20% of the encroached water bodies
The area encroached for 24,516 out of the total 38,496 water bodies could be assessed during the survey. Based on the area encroached, the report categorises the water bodies reeling under encroachment of different levels into 4- those that have less than 25% of the area encroached, those with 25 to 50% encroached, those with 50 to 75% encroached, and those with more than 75% area under encroachment. 62.8% of these water bodies have less than 25% area under encroachment while 11.8% have more than 75% of area under encroachment. About 17.8% had 25 to 50% area under encroachment and the remaining 7.6% had 50 to 75% area under encroachment. In other words, about one in every five encroached water bodies had more than 50% of their area encroached.
Among states/UTs, it is observed that in Delhi, nearly 84% of the water bodies assessed for encroachment area had more than 75% of their encroached. In the states of Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu, the share of encroached water bodies that are encroached by more than 75% was more than the national average. Further, in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Karnataka, and Jharkhand, the share of water bodies encroached by less than 25%, was much higher than the national average.
Majority of the encroached water bodies are Ponds
The report also reveals that more than two-thirds of all encroached water bodies are ponds. This is followed by tanks accounting for 21%, water conservation schemes/check dams/percolation tanks that take up 4.5% and the rest 6.9% are lakes, reservoirs, and other water bodies.
While construction & other such activities may be necessary, it must be ensured that it does not take place at the cost of the country’s natural resources. India is endowed with numerous lakes, ponds, and other water bodies. Numerous studies and government reports have multiple times in the past highlighted how the damage during floods and cyclones is huge because of poor planning and encroachment of water bodies that affect the drainage of excess water, especially in cities where encroachment is widespread.
Featured Image: Water Bodies Census