Indian Official Fined $640 for Draining Reservoir to Find His Missing Phone

Spillway of Paralkot Reservoir during dry spell
Wikipedia/Keen Hopper

Rajesh Biswas, a food inspector working for the state of Chhattisgarh in India, was fined 53,092 rupees (about $640) and suspended from his position on Friday because he ordered over four million liters of water drained from a reservoir so he could look for his missing cell phone.

Biswas, whose name is rendered as “Vishwas” in some publications, reportedly dropped his expensive Samsung phone in the water while he was enjoying a picnic with friends and taking a selfie at the Paralkot Reservoir. He said retrieving it was urgent because it contained sensitive government information.

Biswas sent in a team of divers first, but when they could not find his phone, he hired a diesel-powered pump to drain the reservoir into a canal. The missing phone was eventually located, but it was unsurprisingly ruined by immersion in deep water and could not be booted up.

The Chhattisgarh irrigation authority accused Biswas of wasting 880,000 gallons (4.1 million liters) of water in his doomed quest for his missing phone and required him to pay for the water, plus a 10,000 rupee ($120) fine for “evacuating water without permission.” His total fees and penalties came to around $642.

Biswas claimed he did have permission, having discussed the matter with Ram Lal Dhivar, deputy director of the Water Resource Department (WRD). 

Dhivar claimed he had no idea what Biswas was doing, and ordered a halt to the draining of the reservoir as soon as he found out — which was four days after Biswas started pumping.

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Biswas tried claiming he was doing local farmers a favor by pumping water from the reservoir into an irrigation canal, but neither officials nor the public appears to have been swayed by that defense. Biswas also said the idea of draining the reservoir was suggested to him by friendly local villagers.

“I don’t know how much water it was, but you can ask the villagers, the water is used only for bathing by those who come here for a picnic and not for irrigation or other purposes. The media has exaggerated the news,” he said on Friday.

Biswas was suspended from his post amid public outrage, and on Monday district officials recommended disciplinary action against Dhivar as well.

“The lack of information received by SDO RL Dhivar despite the continuous pumping of water from the Paralkot Reservoir to Pakhanjoor for four days, and the delayed action taken after receiving the information, indicate a lack of regular monitoring of reservoirs in the area. This reflects negligence and indifference towards official responsibilities,” district administrators said of Dhivar’s alleged negligence.

“Abusing his position, he wasted lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of liters of water during the hot season. This is unacceptable behavior that cannot be tolerated,” district official Priyank Shukla said.


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