When the country achieved the net gain of over 5,000 sqkm of usable land between 2005 and 2008, the usable land in Bihar has shrank by 2,760sqkm (2,75,900 hectares), or nine times the size of Patna city, over the three-year period ending in 2009.
Thanks to sedimentation caused by floods and the lackadaisical approach of the government huge chunk of land has been lost in fertile north Bihar.
According to the Wasteland Atlas of India released on Wednesday while 32,000sqkm of wasteland have been made usable land between 2005 and 2008 the country has lost 27,000sqkm of usable land in this period,. Thus India gained 5,000 sq km of land. Of this 13,401sqkm of wasteland were converted into cropland, followed by 7,675sqkm into forests, 1,885sqkm into plantations, water bodies (over 1,267sqkm) and industrial establishments (137sqkm).
The Atlas brought out by the department of land resource under the ministry and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) besides Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh also figures among the states that witnessed a high rate of conversion of non-wasteland to wasteland.
The conversion of wasteland for industrial use has mainly taken place in Karnataka (2,965 hectares), Gujarat (2,390 hectares), Rajasthan (1,638 hectares), Tamil Nadu (1,537 hectares) and Haryana (1,011 hectares).
However, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar have witnessed conversion of non-wasteland into wasteland because of various reasons like shifting cultivation and sediments left behind by floods.
Shifting cultivation is a practice in Arunachal Pradesh, where people burn scrubs and trees to make the land fit for agriculture. But after some years, these lands become barren and turn into wasteland.
According to NRSC director V K Dadhwal in Bihar there has been an increase in wasteland because of sediments left by floods, especially in the Kosi and Gandak belt.
The Atlas suggests that the largest growth of land rendered barren or unusable for cultivation in Bihar has occurred in Samastipur, Patna, and Bhagalpur districts, mainly through the movement of river sediments turning land marshy or waterlogged.
The Atlas, based on observations through India’s remote sensing satellites, has shown that Samastipur added 552sqkm, of waterlogged or marshy land, a consequence of seasonal river flows.
The amount of waterlogged or marshy land in Patna district in 2009 grew dramatically to 418sqkm, from less than five sqkm in 2006. The observations suggest that most of the wasteland added by Bihar is linked to floods, with only tiny contributions from other sources such as forest degradation, the ingress of riverine sands or the emergence of industrial and mining wastelands.
For example, in Patna district, just 1.79sqkm of mining wasteland has emerged over the three years. Degraded forest has added five sqkm wasteland in Munger and 23sqkm in Jamui.
Agriculture experts said the conversion figure was substantial as the population pressure is already very high on 56 lakh hectares of arable land in the state. According to official records, 4.36 lakh hectares of this arable land is barren land.
The Kosi deluge of August 2008 had rendered a huge chunk of fertile land infertile owing to sand deposition. During the breach in the Kosi embankment, the river water brought with it huge volumes of sand, coarse materials and silt. While the heavier parts were dumped in the nearby areas, the lighter part was deposited at a distance in the form of silt. Hence, the land falling in areas located near the embankment witnessed sand casting whereas those located far off got the benefit of fertile silt.