Rahiman Paani Rakhiye: 130 stepwells in rejuvenation mode in HP’s Dharamshala
With the unprecedented climate change affecting the glaciers on Dhauladhar mountain range and altering the rainfall patterns which would likely result in acute water crisis in future, Dharamshala authorities have turned focus to rejuvenate the old stepwells in the region.
This month, Dharamshala block development office launched ‘Rahiman Paani Rakhiye’ project that is aimed at restoration of 130 stepwells in Dharamshala town and surrounding villages.
Dharamshala is known for its temples, monasteries and waterfalls, but its ancient stepwells largely remained unnoticed, said Dharamshala BDO Abhineet Katyayan, who helms the ambitious project.
These remarkable water bodies not only provide communities with water throughout the year, but also serve as active places of worship and are living heritage of Dharamshala.
Katyayan said before outlining the project, the development office in collaboration with Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence (CURE), India, conducted a water assessment study in Dharamshala block covering nearly 200 stepwells.
The eight-month study that completed in January this year has been submitted to University of Twente in the Netherlands and will feature in the European Union Programme for water conservation.
The survey involved creating a GIS dataset of all stepwells mapping of discharge rate, use value and usage whether religious, agricultural or household.
“More than 70 parameters relating to each stepwells were collected. During the study, it was also noticed that all villages covered experienced scarcity of water, particularly in summers,” said Katyayan, adding that the stepwells in the rural areas of Dharamshala are of two types — pool and flow.
The pool type stepwell has broader surfaces, while the flow type is a narrow pipeline outlet. The streams in the region are also losing water and have become seasonal from perennial. Stepwells too have significantly lost discharge and quality of water has declined, pushing people to go to far-off places to fetch water.
This eventually takes a toll on health and hygiene, animals, crop yield and burdens the family, especially women and children. On top of it, conflicts arise among the communities, he said.
Katyayan said the current state of stepwells is also impacting the local ecology and biodiversity. It is a fact that stepwells contribute to the base flow in the streams, so depleting state of springs has led to depletion of flows in streams posing multiple water- related issues downstream, he added.
“Our collective future depends upon how we address the issue of water and in order to do so, a pilot project, Rahiman Pani Rakhiye, has been launched,” Katyayan said.
It involves restoration of one stepwell every month per panchayat. Many of the stepwells being renovated are closer to a century old.
To ensure public participation, he said, special gram sabhas were organised in all 27 panchayats of Dharamshala block on March 22 and 130 stepwells were identified for the renovation.
Under the project, four key factors will be taken care of — hydrological intervention, recharge intervention, storage and regulation.
The activities to be undertaken in the restoration project involve reserving the source of stepwells, ensuring good connectivity; fencing; separating the bathing area and animal drinking space.
The structures would also be covered. Besides, additional waste flowing water will be tapped by constructing a tank or soak pit nearby the stepwells.
Proper drainage channels surrounding the wells will be constructed to minimise chemicals surface run-off. Plantation will be also done around the spring.
The funds will be spent under MGNREGA in convergence with 15th finance commission.