Over the years, rapid increase in population and spreading urban settlements have taken a heavy toll on Delhi’s water bodies — ponds, wetlands, lakes and huge reservoirs, the capital’s traditional source of water for centuries.
In just over 10 years, the total area covered by water bodies shrunk by 52%, a 2011 study said. “From 58 sq km in 1997, it came down to 27.43 sq km in 2008,” lead author Manju Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, and others said in the study published in the Journal of Environmental Protection.
Apart from quenching the thirst of people, these bodies acted as traditional harvesting devices. They also facilitated groundwater recharge.
But over time, the smaller water bodies were eaten up by encroachments, sewage discharge and debris.
Delhi’s water bodies comprise mostly village ponds. A few are big lakes and reservoirs. From over 1,000 such water bodies till about a century ago, Delhi today “officially” has only 629.
In 2000, the shrinking water bodies prompted Vinod Jain, who runs the NGO Tapas, to file a PIL in the Delhi High Court. It led to the first survey in 2003.
“The survey identified 794 water bodies but the government acknowledged only 629 (before the high court in 2006). In the next survey in 2011, the number identified rose to 850,” said Jain. But the official number remained the same.
Officials, however, paint a brighter picture. “Through regular surveys, we have identified more water bodies and lakes. The number stands at 1,022 but we are yet to ascertain the locations, the status and encroachments, if any. Once this is done, we can submit it (the figure) in the court,” said SD Singh of Delhi Parks and Gardens Society.
For ages, local communities looked after water bodies, which survived because of the sense of ownership. After decades of government ownership almost ruined them, attempts are being made to involve the community again.
For instance, a group of residents formed the Shamsi Talab residents’ welfare association in Mehrauli to save the Hauz-i-Shamsi reservoir. In Dwarka, villagers and residents joined hands together to save “their own” water body.
Said Singh, “We have started including people in the cleaning, plantations in catchment areas and providing assistance to help conserve the water bodies.”
But with water bodies falling under multiple agencies, it becomes a tad difficult to monitor how they are being conserved. Singh said his department issues a three-step guideline to all agencies. “It is for them to implement it.”
The steps are simple: If it is a wet water body, build drains around it to harvest storm water and grow shrubs and porous material in catchment areas; if it is a dry body, plant trees as they absorb water and help increase groundwater recharge; a boundary wall is a must to stop encroachment.
The Parks and Gardens Society has started preparing a database of all water bodies in Delhi — irrespective of the ownership. It includes mapping, demarcation of area, photographing. Once it is ready, an action plan can be prepared.
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