Encroachments and poor planning have depleted the green cover and water bodies in Mahipalpur. As a result, the 14th-century heritage village, in the lap of the Aravalli range, has been pushed to obscurity. In 1994 and 1996, a major part of the ridge was notified by the government, making all construction activities in the area illegal. However, encroachments continue with impunity along the NH-8.
For the past five years, residents of Mahipalpur village have been frantically seeking changes in the city’s zonal plan, which has almost obliterated their village by showing the area as government land. The residents have now pinned their hopes on area MLA Devinder Sehrawat who recently announced plans for the area’s redevelopment. The project — Pehli Nazar (first look) — is aimed at decongesting the airport area by developing it into a heritage corridor. South Delhi, with the maximum number of dry lakes and water resources, is the most water-starved part of the Capital. Those associated with the project, which is to take shape in two years, feel that the lungs of south Delhi, including Vasant Kunj, Sanjay Van Biodiversity Park, Sultan Garhi, Rangpuri, Shiv Murti, Palam, Shankar Vihar cantonment and Mehram Nagar, are in dire need of rejuvenation.
The project also includes traffic decongestion, development of infrastructure facilities like hospitals and sewage system with water recycling facilities, rejuvenation of water bodies and conservation of archaeological sites.“We will first concentrate on the revival of water bodies and tree plantation. There are six water bodies in Sultan Garhi and the revival has already started,’” said Sehrawat.
The land owning agency, Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which is also responsible for drafting the zonal and master plans, has now taken responsibility of funding the project.
For years the ruins of Sultan Garhi were being misused for anti-social activities. Thus, Arun Goyal, DDA’s vice chairman, initiated the plan to revamp the site.“The idea came to my mind when I visited here in December. I could see that with some overhaul, its charm could be restored. The work will be done in phases and phase-I includes cleaning the place and opening it for visitors in one year,” he said.
Revival of water bodies
Water bodies in Mahipalpur area are a part of a historic system of rainwater management and groundwater recharge, yet they are on the verge of extinction. A total of 15 water bodies are begging for restoration and while many continue to run dry, most dried up ponds are being used as parking lots by the locals. There are six water bodies in Sultan Garhi and most are languishing; while one is contaminated with sewage, a temple has been made on another. Some water bodies vanished, buried under the concretised structure of a school. Locals say despite natural water resources here, the locality reels from acute water scarcity. This, they claim is a result of the development of Vasant Kunj. At present, only 1.3 million gallons per day (MGD) of river water is being supplied to this groundwater-dependent area; however, its requirement is more than 4 MGD. The shortfall is being met largely by installing tube wells that are fast depleting the water level of the village.
Environmentalist Air Vice Marshal (retd) Vinod Rawat, who was behind the revival of Sanjay Van, has been invited to take charge of the project. “The idea is to connect and maintain all the bodies in and around Sultan Garhi. Many of these are quite old; potters from Gwalior who had settled here, dug up land to get the soil for their pottery. These pits later turned into water bodies, if these pits are cleaned and filled again with water, the water bodies will automatically get recharged,” he said.
Fixing the sewage system
Locals said that the water bodies in Mahipalpur are filled with dirty water. With no provision for disposal, the storm water drains discharge sewage into them. “Most people view water bodies as convenient sewage and garbage dumping spaces or as empty land up for grabs. Villagers have to see their revival as a solution to the waterlogging problems,” said Jyoti Sharma, an activist. A sewage drain carrying wastewater from Vasant Kunj (including Masudpur Dairy) discharges filth at the eastern edge of Mahipalpur which contaminates the groundwater and pond water.
Sehrawat has suggested developing small slit chambers. He also met with Delhi Jal Board officials to fix the sewage problem. There are no outlets for the existing pipeline and sewage processing. The sewage flows against the direction of Mahipalpur resulting in blockage.
Recreation and modernisation
Work has already begun to develop the Tughlaq-era ruins of Sultan Garhi village complex into an amphitheatre with a food court at the back lawns. Inspired by the idea of Qutb complex, Sehrawat envisioned this as a place where the taste, colours and moods of India will concentrate in one place to create an overwhelming experience of a heritage site. The idea is to revamp 300 hectares of land (part of the ruins) and turn it into a village haat. The barren area of the village has already been laid to accommodate a parking space of over 500 vehicles. The unique haat area, currently a protected monument under ASI, will be developed by using the ruined sandstones of the structure imparting a historical look to the structure.
The complex comprises almost 10 individual dwelling units. Architectural features suggest the ruins belong to late-Mughal period, making it the earliest surviving residential architecture in Delhi. Historians suggest that the settlement seems to have been abandoned in the 19th century due to lack of water. There will be temporary and permanent exhibitions promoting the theme of cultural integration. “An amphitheatre is also part of the plan. We already have beautiful boundary walls and the foundation structure. The heritage site requires a little touch-up to turn the ruins into an aesthetic masterpiece. The amphitheatre could be used for sufi concerts, light shows and dance performances,” said area MLA Devinder Sehrawat.
There are plans of developing the area into a botanical park and a herbal garden with organic and medicinal plants. Indigenous varieties of trees such as seesam, neem, and tulsi will be planted. Air Vice Marshal (retd) Rawat said, “The aim is to plant many trees so that the temperature of aerocity is balanced, which is normally two degrees more than the temperature in the Capital.” In 2002, due to lack of expertise, a Mexican tree was planted here but it caused a lot of harm to the soil and plants. A lot of water was soaked by the plant due to its deeper roots, and a large area of Sulatan Garhi was submerged in invasive thorny bushes.
Sultan Garhi, the first Islamic mausoleum (tomb), was built in 1231 AD for Prince Mahmud, the eldest son of Delhi Sultanate ruler Iltutmish. Built in the style of a fortress, the structure imparts the look of Persian and oriental architecture. The premise forms a unique place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims. The monument that houses a sufi shrine and a temple of ‘Dada Bhaiya’ has been worshipped by local villagers for more than 700 years.
The temple is widely popular. Every Thursday, villagers from all the three Sehrawat villages named after kings Mahipal, Ranga and Nangla (Mahipalpur, Rangpur Pahari and Nangla Devat) visit the shrine for prayers. Devotees also visit the sufi shrine for prayers at around the same time. People of both faiths offer food to the homeless who gather in thousands at the premises. As a part of the redevelopment plan, the shelter of the temple will be restored to give the devotees some respite from the heat. A parking for more than 500 vehicles is also being planned.
The heritage area of Sultan Garhi extends to more than 60 acres and has been declared as a Grade A Monument by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Undertaking the restoration of the monument, DDA has fenced a 100m of restricted area and 200m of regulated area and a water conservation plan (water harvesting) has also been evolved to partially meet the water requirements for the park around the tomb. ASI’s control extends only up to 300m from the tomb since the rest of the area surrounding it is proposed for urban development by the Indian Army.
History enthusiast Sohil Hashmi said, “The original name of the place is Sultan-e-Garhi, meaning the king of caves. The site is very interesting as it took 800 years to complete the construction of the entire area. It means that the site was under construction from 10th century to 18th century in the Mughal era. It is an example of a unique place with religious integration of Muslims and Jats. Restoration will help this place a lot and it can become a beautiful tourist attraction.”
Defiant encroachers, apathy behind the depleting green cover in Mahipalpur area
In March 2002, a government survey showed that in five years encroachments had doubled in Mahipalpur. A demolition drive was carried by the forest department to remove the jhuggis that had come up in the forest and near the Gram Sabha land near Rangpuri Pahari. However, weeks after the drive, the shanties were back. Residents said that this is repeated each time an anti-encroachment drive is held in the area. They claim that the slum has even extrapolated into the forest. Fed up by the situation, the residents filed a plea in National Green Tribunal (NGT) in June last year, but in vain.
“Despite our efforts, encroachments continue and we have managed nothing but two surveys that show what we already know. The encroachments are destroying our johad which is a part of our heritage as well as a source of groundwater recharge here,” said Deep Chand Numberdar, a Rangpuri Pahari resident.
Residents say that the presence of the jhuggis has also created a law and order problem, the crime rate has increased and so has the pollution level of the area. Apart from battling rampant encroachments, the villagers have to bear the brunt of the endangered water bodies.
Area MLA Devinder Sehrawat feels that the situation has worsened over time. “The entire ridge area has been encroached blatantly in the last six to eight months. The pro-JJ Cluster policy of Delhi government has been misinterpreted and land mafia has encroached upon public land. Jhuggis are owned by influential people and sold for `3-5 lakhs,” he said.
Till a few years ago, Mahipalpur lake, near Mata Chowk, was dry and in partially encroached state. But, following a court order, the government had done stone pitching and landscaping around it. Residents feel that similar efforts can save the 15 other water bodies in their area.
Water bodies are integral to groundwater recharge and can help in re-establishing the ecological balance. South Delhi has 55 water bodies and more than 90% of them are in need of revival. As per environmentalists, a fundamental step in the revival process is that the catchment area (area around water bodies where water is expected to flow) should be prepared well before monsoons and the pathways should be prepared. For capacity improvement, the deepening of the water body area is recommended.
“Drying up of water bodies leads to ecological imbalance and climate change as they help in cooling the weather of the city. We don’t have open water pools anymore. With exposure more water will evaporate and more will be the cooling effect,” said Diwan Singh, of Ridge Bachao Andolan, which revived two water bodies near Vasant Vihar.
For years, Forum for Organized Resource Conservation & Enhancement (FORCE), an NGO based in Vasant Kunj, has been working for the enhancement of water resources in the city. “Most communities merely view water bodies as garbage dumping space. Since drains have been made to carry run-off, a water body’s value in preventing waterlogging is also lost. Unless, we make concerted efforts to revive this relevance, efforts will be difficult to sustain,” said Jyoti Sharma, FORCE president.