In Panipat’s Dadlana village in Haryana, a water body has shrunk to half its size as the other half has been converted into a 50-bed hospital. In nearby Sonepat district, Khewra village has converted an existing water body into a toilet block that incidentally remains unused.

Even as the focus is on fast disappearance of water bodies from the urban landscapes, water conservationists have sounded an alarm about the vanishing water bodies in the rural areas. What was considered an urban phenomenon -- grabbing water body land for other uses -- is now being reported from rural areas where activists allege the violations are being carried out by government agencies as well.

“During our surveys in the villages of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh we found a lot of water bodies that were manmade have been encroached upon by the Government itself. They have drained out the water and converted the land into a plot for schools, dispensaries, and other construction activities,” says Manoj Misra of non-government organisation Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.

Pollution, neglect and indifference, alleges Mr. Misra, are the reason why no attempts have been made to restore the water bodies that are not just a source of water, but also sustain bio-diversity and help in ground water recharge. In some villages surveyed by the YJA, some of the water bodies that have not been encroached are filled to the brim with refuse, plastics and construction debris.

“In 2011, a Supreme Court Bench of Justice Makandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra in what is commonly known as the Jagpal Singh Case, given a very clear direction to all the State Governments in the country that they should prepare schemes for eviction of illegal, unauthorised occupants of Gram Sabha, Gram Panchayat, Poramboke, Shamlat land and these must be restored to the Gram Sabha, Gram Panchayat for the common use of the village, but we are yet to see an effective laws being framed or steps taken to implement the judgment,” Mr. Misra says.

The YJA has already shot off a letter to Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to issue directions for protection, preservation and restoration of water bodies in the rural areas. “We are aware that to find effective statutory solution, it is the Rural Development Ministry that can step in and ensure the implementation of the Supreme Court directions. The Wetland Rules from 2010 of the Ministry of Environment & Forests are of little help to such water bodies, therefore, to prevent such deleterious tendencies on the part of local vested interests, it is for the Rural Development Ministry to take action and monitor the implementation status of this judgment in the interest of the security of village common lands including village water bodies,” says Mr. Misra.

“Under MNREGA scheme large a number of new water bodies are being encouraged but what is happening to the earlier water bodies seems to be of little concern to most,” Mr. Misra adds.

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