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ECO-SCOPE BIHAR- Disappearing wetlands of Bihar: the case of Kabar Tal, Begusarai


Disappearing wetlands of Bihar: the case of Kabar Tal, Begusarai

Prof. Ashok Ghosh

By Prof Ashok Kumar Ghosh

Wetlands can be defined as water bodies that endure long enough to develop specialized biota, tolerant of the water-logged conditions. Wetlands are dynamic in nature, waxing and waning with the change of seasons. They play a unique role not only in the evolution of micro-ecosystems, but are definite determinants of the economic activities of the local population in developing communities. Their existence and survival are, therefore of prime concern in the field of Environmental Conservation. Among the twenty wetlands identified in Asia, four cover the Indian soil. These are North Indian Wetlands, South Indian Wetlands, Assam Plains, and Bay of Bengal coast. Kabar Tal or lake is located near the eastern fringe of the North Indian Wetlands, and is sustained by the Ganga drainage system. This wetland is undergoing rapid change, initiated by neotectonic activity of the Mid-Ganga Plains and exacerbated by interference of the rural population of the region.

Kabar tal Begusarai photographed in 2004

Kabar Tal is one of the largest freshwater wetland ecosystems of the Gangetic Plains. Situated in the district of Begusarai in Bihar, Kabar Tal lies about 22 km northwest of the district headquarters of Begusarai. The nearest village to the lake is Manjhaul. Kabar Tal, a residual ox-bow lake, was formed by the meandering Gandak River. Its height is 40.42m MSL. It covers an average area of 6737ha, the spread changes from 9053 ha in the Monsoons to 2031ha in the dry season during a year. The catchment area of Kabar tal is delineated by the higher northern part that acts as a water divide. The river Burhi Gandhak in the south and west forms the other catchment boundaries.

The southern 15 km long irrigation channel constructed in 1951 to drain the excess water for agricultural purposes connects the lake to the river Burhi Gandak. But it is not working well as the level of Kabar Tal is about 8 feet higher than the level of the Burhi Gandak so that only a little water can enter the lake that too only during high floods in the river. This lake by being located on higher ground also recharges ground water aquifers in the region.
Kabar Tal is of great socio-economic importance in terms of fish, fodder, fuel and water supply. A large population living in and around the wetlands depends upon it for resources and sustenance. The transitional nature of Kabar Tal in terms of overall spread, depth, and water quality has favored the evolution of a wide diversity of flora and fauna that have been providing sanctuaries to migrating birds and fishes. The enormous size and rich bio-diversity have resulted in its selection as one of Wetland of National Importance. It is one of the 21 wetland selected for conservation, by the National Wetland Committee, and was a proposed RAMSAR site of the Government of India. There is an island in the lake, which is known as “Monkey Island” due to frequent visit of monkeys. Palm trees abound on the islands but they were never tapped. There is a temple on the island, a small shrine dedicated to “Jaimangla” the other name of Goddess Durga or Bhawani, a painted figure of who may be seen in the niche opposite the low door in the front of the building. The building is believed to be very ancient and considerable sanctity is attached to it. Pilgrims come to it from distant places especially during the Durga Puja.

This wetland is highly productive and provides economic support to the local people, especially

Kabar tal, photographed in 2011

the Sahnis [landless fishermen around the area whose only source of sustenance is the lake and its resources]. But due to the changing character of the Kabar Tal, the outlet canal stopped functioning and the water level in the lake increased, making it apt for the wetland habitat. At present, there is no inflow-outflow mechanism in the lake. Extensive deforestation, overgrazing, unsustainable agricultural practices, and over exploitation of biomass for fuel, fodder and timber purposes have over the years stripped the land of its natural vegetation cover resulting in erosion. This in combination with sediment load from Burhi Gandak further adds silt to the lake.
The lake bed is encroached by the rich farmers who overexploit them. As there is no boundary demarcating the Bird sanctuary and Lake Area, this encourages illegal poaching. The rich farmers, realizing the impending loss, deliberately widened the outlet canal so that water could not stay for long periods and they could practice agriculture. This resulted in social conflict between the Sahnis and the rich farmers. Casteism further widened the gap between the rich and the poor leading to usurping of the lake ecosystems and depleting the resources.

Further, it has been declared as a Bird Sanctuary, “a protected area”. Hence, the conflict faced by the Kabar Tal wetlands has two levels. At the First level is the conflict between the primary stakeholders: the fishing rights of Sahnis and the agricultural practice by the rich farmers. Second level is – conflict between people and Government regarding the ownership and the rights.
In the midst of these, lies the basic truth that Kabar Tal has been shrinking at an abnormally high rate, as exemplified by a comparison of remote sensing pictures taken in 1984 and in 2004 in the dry month of March by my research group. The lake covered 6786.05 hectares in 1984, but in 2004 revealed shrinkage to 6043.825 hectares. It has further decreased in area since 2004 for which our study is continued. There is rapid decline in the number of migratory birds in this wet land area.
There was a time when many tourists visited this place, but with the rapid decline in the area and quality the tourist inflow has come down to almost nil. This site had potential to be one of the high point for ecotourism in Bihar, but due to lack of concern both from Government and local population today, it is nothing but a deteriorating marshy land. I appeal to the Minister of Department of Environment and Forest, Government of Bihar through this column to take initiative to restore the glory of Kabar Tal, and develop it as a tourist spot of Bihar.


The author would like to thank Dr.Nupur Bose, HOD, Geography, A.N. College, Patna and students of Department of EWM, A.N.College,Patna for their valuable inputs.



Prof.  Ashok Kumar Ghosh is Professor-in-Charge in the department of Environment and Water Management, A.N.College [Magadh University], Patna, India.He writes a column on environment and water resources in Bihar, exclusively for BiharDays every Mondays.


8 Responses

  1. TV Sinha says:

    Prof Ghosh

    Nice to see your untiring effort for the preservation of ecology and environment in Bihar. indeed. eco-tourism is a big opportunity for income too!.

  2. BIPIN PRASAD says:

    Today most of the lake of bihar is in this condition like “Giddhi lake” and also our ganga is in this position.
    The lake is the tourist point of bird and it is point of disappear.

    Dept. of E.W.M (PART-II), A . N . college,patna

  3. Dr. Rajiv Kumar Sinha, Griffith University, Australia says:

    I highly appreciate the initiative of Prof. Ghosh for saving the wetlands of Bihar.
    Professor David Bellamy of the Australian Littoral Society in 1985 called the wetlands as ‘the LUNGS, the KIDNEYS and the OVARIES of the living planet upon which we all depend’ emphasizing upon the triple environmental functions of the wetlands as ‘respiratory’(source of breathing oxygen and sink of waste gas carbon dioxide), ‘excretory’ (filtration and removal of wastes and contaminants) and ‘reproductive’(production and conservation of biodiversity) for the planet earth.
    Wetlands also play a crucial role in the supply of fresh water to humanity by acting as a ‘giant sponges’ absorbing rainfall and slowly releasing it over time.
    Great works. Carry on.

  4. ANIKET KUMAR Research Scholar says:

    Prof. Ghosh its heartening to see your initiative regarding wetland and rivers of Bihar which in today’s time face tremendous pressure to sustain themselves from various factors. The effort to include some of these wetlands to be declared as Ramsar Sites should continue in order to highlight the ecological value they posses

  5. AMIT KUMAR Software Engineer SAP Labs India says:

    I strongly agree with Prof. Ghosh. Bihar govt. needs to look in this matter ASAP. Just see Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary , in spite being a man made reservoir it attracts so many birds and so many tourists come to visit the place, specially foreign tourists during winter. Why can’t Bihar be the place to attract tourists!! All due to the negligence of govt. Keep it up prof

  6. ramesh says:

    Wish that Bihar Government found some time to read this ! Or does the government needs some NGO to take issue beyond control for them to act? Hope that the citizens grow more aware with each passing day. A commendable effort indeed Sir!

  7. Dr. S.N.Ojha says:

    Prof. Ghosh,

    I was happy to see your efforts made on wetlands of Bihar. I have assigned this topic to one of my masters student to learn about the conflict resolution in wetland.

    Kindly suggest a wetland having maximum conflict [may be in Muzaffarpur].



  8. Sahab Shabbir says:

    Prof. Ghosh,

    What an excellent article. This indeed adds another feather in your cap.

    I am in partial agreement with Dr. Ojha that some wetlands are conflicting, maximum of which lies in Muzaffarpur. They need to get researched in depth as I believe they holds for maximum potentials to get qualified as Ramsar sites.

    I have strong hopes to see your another informative writing piece upon the issue soon.

    For you people’s kind information, I am a legal researcher in Wetlands.

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