British-era water supply structures crumbling in Ambala Cantt
For nearly a century since its inception in the 1880s, the water supply system built by the British Empire quenched the thirst of people in Ambala Cantonment.
Around 10-kilometre long, the duct water supply system, known as Handesra waterworks, ensured clean water supply to both troops and civilians.
After almost 150 years, the well-like structures and underground pipes spread across three villages and in some areas of the cantonment lie in ruins.
Mostly made of limestone and bricks, now surrounded by wild growth, remnants of these structures can be found near Dangri river in Ambala’s Bora Khera village on the Roorkee highway besides in Handesra and Sarangpur villages in Punjab.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) convener Colonel RD Singh (retired), whose team has done primary research in these pockets, says this water supply system primarily works on the principle of gravity as these villages are at a higher altitude than Ambala.
“Water collects in the larger wells through shallow wells and enters the 20-foot-deep pipes without the assistance of any elaborate mechanism. When water levels dropped after an earthquake in 1905, a steam engine was installed, which was later replaced with an oil-based engine after advancement in technology,” the colonel said.
Youdhvir Singh, an irrigation research scholar at Panjab University, said the structure came into existence to ensure round-the-clock drinking water after the British setup a permanent colony in the 1840s.
“River water was filtered through sand and was used for drinking through storage wells. Even in times of drought, the wells were large enough to meet the region’s requirement till a backup could be arranged,” Singh said.
Locals say dependence on the system gradually decreased as the water levels had dropped and tubewells were setup across the region in the decades after Independence.
An official from the Cantonment Board said the supply was used in few parts of the cantonment till the 1990s, after which other alternatives replaced it. However, the board has made attempts to beautify it.
Intach lists the waterworks as a heritage site and has recommended that the engineering marvel be maintained and developed as a tourist spot or site of historical importance.
The board’s chief executive officer, Anuj Goel, said that the body can undertake its restoration either on directions or any proposal from the Military Engineering Services.