Kanwar Lake, Asia's largest freshwater oxbow lake, in Begusarai district has been reduced to a vanishing wetland ecosystem as a result of encroachments, coupled with government inaction to save the natural aquifer. The lake was declared a protected area in 1986 by the Bihar government under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, which prohibited poaching, agricultural, industrial or any other activity in the area. In 1989, the Union government declared the wetland a bird sanctuary. An extensive study on the wetland in 2012 by Ashok Ghosh, a scientist and chairman of the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, found that the lake had covered 6,786 hectares in 1984, but by 2012, it had shrunk to 2,032 hectares. Alarmingly, in 2018, the lake area was deemed to be a mere 89 hectares. Ghosh attributes the shrinking wetland to encroachments by farmers who have built shanties and houses as well as to land sharks engaging in construction activities. The biggest casualty of the encroachment is the local fisherfolk Sahnis whose livelihood is at stake. They are at loggerheads with the farmers who want to practise agriculture on most of the land area of the lake. They also want the area to be developed as Krishi Evam Pakshi Vihar. Further, administrative apathy combined with eventual degradation of land and pollution has also impacted fishery activities. However, in a welcome change, in October 2020, Kanwar Lake was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands, making it the first Ramsar site in Bihar. This was applauded as a much needed step to protect the wetlands and minimise conflicts in the area.
Opposition against environmental degradation, Demand to retain/protect access to common land/resources
Non-Forest (Other than Grazing Land)
Has the Conflict Ended?
When did it end?
Why did the conflict end?
Categories of Legislations Involved in the Conflict
Other, Environmental Laws
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
Section 2(24A) [Definition of protected area]; Chapter IV [Protected Areas, including sanctuaries], Section 18 [Declaration of a sanctuary by notification]; Section 21 [Declaration by Collector requiring persons to submit claims regarding nature and extent of rights]
Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010
Rule 3(i) [Wetlands designated under the Ramsar Convention are protected wetlands under the Rules]; Rule 4(1)(vii) [Prohibition on any activity that is likely to cause an adverse impact on the wetland ecosystem]
Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 1971
Article 4(2) [Contracting parties shall compensate for loss of wetland resources]
National Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017
Rule 4(2)(i) [This rule restricts the conversion of wetlands for non-wetland uses, including any encroachment]
Whether claims/objections were made as per procedure in the relevant statute
What was the claim(s)/objection(s) raised by the community? What was the decision of the concerned government department?
Legal Processes and Loopholes Enabling the Conflict:
Violation of environmental laws, Violation of standard international laws
Status of Case In Court
Whether any adjudicatory body was approached
Name of the adjudicatory body
Name(s) of the Court(s)
High Court of Bihar at Patna
Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No.11444 of 2013, Letters Patent Appeal No.2182 of 2015,
Major Human Rights Violations Related to the Conflict:
Whether criminal law was used against protestors
Official name of the criminal law. Did the case reach trial?
Reported Details of the Violation:
Date of Violation
Location of Violation
Nature of Protest
Government Departments Involved in the Conflict:
Environment, Forest and Climate Change Department, Department of Revenue and Land Reforms
PSUs Involved in the Conflict:
Did LCW Approach Government Authorities for Comments?
Name, Designation and Comment of the Government Authorities Approached
Corporate Parties Involved in the Conflict:
Did LCW Approach Corporate Parties for Comments?
Name, Designation and Comment of Corporate Authorities Approached
Other Parties Involved in the Conflict: