As a tourist attraction, the lake promoted allied employment and helped people earn enough in the past. However, reduced water levels and lack of upkeep hurt its prospects
Dhanbad, Jharkhand: Life was not so tough until two decades ago
for Dilip Mahto (35), a chai pakora seller in Dhanbad district’s Topchanchi. That was
a time when tourists flocked to the picturesque Topchanchi Lake in hordes,
helping his father Naresh Prasad Mahto earn decently from his lakeside eatery.
forward to 2023, Dilip is struggling hard due to dwindling footfalls to the
historic lake built under the British Raj in 1924. “Monthly income has dropped
to Rs 3,000 in the off-season. How can I manage household expenses and educate my
three children with such meagre earnings? That is why I also work as a daily
wage labourer these days.”
to Dwarika Mahto (70), another tea stall owner who joins Dilip at work, the
lake’s heyday was from the 1960s to the 80s. The situation started deteriorating in the
early 90s due to non-maintenance.
The latest peak-season (December 15 to January 31) tourist
arrivals were around 500 per day against almost 1,000 up until the 90s. Nowadays, during the off-season, and particularly in summer, the count drops to less than
100. Compare this with the days when people
used to drive in for picnics and New Year revelries from other parts of the
country, especially West Bengal!
me, the more the number of vehicles, the better the chances of earning well. Therefore,
it was not difficult to manage the food and
educational expenses of my six children. Two of them are graduates and one is an intermediate
(Plus Two) pass. The rest have studied up to Class 10. In contrast, my married
sons now find it difficult to make ends meet," says Md Shamshuddin (55), a
puncture repair mechanic who had to shift his shop close to the National Highway 2 in need
of more customers.
Vikash Mahto, a young mukhiya from Dumdumi panchayat in Topchanchi block, says migration for work was also on the rise due to the lake’s poor condition.
Dilip Mahto at his lakeside eatery (Photo: Shabbir Hussain)
man-made reservoir, Topchanchi Lake was constructed by tapping 10 water streams
flowing down the adjoining Parasnath, the highest mountain peak in Jharkhand at
1,365 m, located in
Giridih district. While most of the streams dried up over the years, two of
them — Dholkatta
and Nalki — continued
to be the lake’s major water sources. However, diversions made by farmers for
irrigation and silt deposition have greatly affected their flows.
deposition in Topchanchi Lake also hit its holding capacity. The lake’s normal water level is 50 ft, but
it recedes to 30 ft in summers. Taking note of the need to bring back both supply
channels and the lake to good health, besides diverting other water streams
in Giridih district into Topchanchi Lake, Chandrashekhar Agarwal initiated a
drive in 2016 in his capacity as the then Dhanbad mayor.
restored the lake’s major supply channels to their full glory and made plans
to ensure supply from Maheshduba canal in Giridih. However, that did not materialise
as an expert team from the urban development department informed us after a
survey that it was not technically feasible as the canal was located at a lower altitude. For it to be integrated with
Nalki, water should be diverted to a much higher altitude,” Agarwal tells 101Reporters.
the silt removal from the lake in 2018-19 by utilising Rs 13.50 crore provided
by the minor irrigation department replenished the lake, which touched above 60
ft. Over 100 labourers were
employed for the clean-up and six tipper trucks arranged by Dhanbad Municipal
Corporation were used to transport the collected mud. As a result, the water
level increased to 78 ft in November 2020 and led to a breach for the
first time after 2011.
a plan to build a tourism circuit connecting Topchanchi
and Maithon Dam on River Barakar did not materialise due to lack of funds with the
JMADA and the involvement of several departments in the proposed plan.
(Clockwise from left) A dense 8.7 sq ft forest surrounds Topchanchi Lake; Migratory birds fly over the lake; A new library near the lake, created by youth organisation Topchanchi Helping Hands Foundation (Photos: Shabbir Hussain)
Tourism push needed
Despite its improved health, Topchanchi Lake has not
been able to draw as many tourists as it did before. “You know, it is not just
about the scenic beauty of the lake spread over 21 acres. Several hillocks surround it. Due to the serene atmosphere, more Siberian birds
arrive here when compared with Maithon Dam, located 48 km from Dhanbad,” informs Gokul Mukherjee (36), a
The 8.7-sq km Topchanchi Wildlife Sanctuary is a dense forest with leopard,
jungle cat, chital, barking deer, wild boar, mongoose, langur, jackal and fox
roaming it. Apart from locally found bronze-winged jacana, pond heron, egret and
swamp partridge, migratory birds such as black cormorant, black-winged stilt, common
teal, gadwall, brown-headed gull, spoonbill, red-crested pochard and common coot
flock to the lake in winters.
organising youth in the locality, Mukherjee
founded Topchanchi Helping Hands Foundation, which has been calling for concretisation of the lake
embankment, renovation of guest houses, tree plantation in nearby areas, repair of a
connected bridge and better security as the nearby Giridih has Maoist presence. Also, robbery and street harassment have been reported by tourists recently.
our part, we organise cleanliness drives in the lake and nearby spots. As part
of our social work, we have established Swami Vivekanand Nishulk Pustakalay, a no-cost library to raise awareness among local children and youth,” Mukherjee
Meanwhile, foundation member Advocate Panchanchan Singh draws attention towards the guest houses of the Jharkhand Mineral Area Development Authority (JMADA) in Topchanchi. “Four decades ago, both guest houses offered a comfortable stay for visitors. They are in ruins now.”
In its position as the custodian of Topchanchi Lake,
the JMADA claims that decreasing revenue since the 1980s is the primary reason for the non-maintenance of existing infrastructure.
Right now, the water supply tax is the only source of revenue left with it as the Jharkhand government
has handed over collections under tonnage cess, royalty cess and stamp duty to
Kumar Jha, the executive engineer (in-charge) of JMADA, tells 101Reporters that they were working simultaneously
on two plans. “For the repair of bridges and culverts in bad shape, a cost
estimate is under preparation. The JMADA itself will carry out the repairs.
A comprehensive beautification plan for the lake and surroundings is also in
the works. This will include the revival of guest houses and building of park
benches around the lake.”
Jha says they have written to the technical team of the state’s urban development department to launch a survey to prepare a detailed plan and estimate before April. “We now have sufficient funds to carry out a comprehensive beautification,” he adds.
Cover Photo by Shabbir Hussain
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
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