Major revamp to restore five heritage water bodies in Delhi
A road map for the project has been developed by the School of Planning and Architecture, and it is aimed at redeveloping the areas around these water bodies as vibrant public spaces
Recommendations to revive five heritage water bodies in the national Capital have been submitted under the Amrit Sarovar Jal Dharohar scheme of the Union ministry for urban development and housing affairs (MoHUA), officials aware of the matter said.
A road map for the project has been developed by the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), and it is aimed at redeveloping the areas around these water bodies as vibrant public spaces. The All India Council for Technical Education is also associated with the scheme.
Prof Meenakshi Dhote, professor of environmental planning at SPA, said they studied the Red Fort Baoli, Feroz Shah Kotla Baoli (well), Hazarat Nizamuddin Baoli, the lake at Purana Qila and the Baoli at Bara Hindu Rao. She added all five water bodies are part of the Barapullah basin.
The ‘Lal Qila Baoli’ is believed to be older than the 16th-century fort built by Shah Jahan. The stepwell is believed to have been built during the Lodhi era (14th century), according to the SPA study. It found that the stepwell’s water is fit only for ‘outdoor bathing’ as per Central Pollution Control Board standards.
The study states that the baoli has negligible footfall due to restricted access, lack of any sitting or gathering space, signage and utilities. SPA has recommended that the baoli chambers, which are damaged and locked, should be opened. It suggested treatment of water through natural measures, restoration of the structure with displays on the walls that will make the visitors aware about the history of the water body.
The lake located along the 16th-century Purana Qila was restored by the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) in 2018, attracting criticism on the ways employed to revive the water body. SPA found “excessive algal growth” in the water.
The report recommends creation of improved space for leisure activities as well as beautification, space for paddle craft (boating), a play area for kids.
Nandja Chopra, a member of the study team, said, “A large number of people visit the fort but they don’t use the lake, and this connect needs to improve.”
Harish Arupula, who worked on the project, said that the well was discovered around 4-5 months back. It was earlier covered with vegetation. “ASI found the baoli during the restoration work. While the main baoli of the Kotla is well documented, no one knows about this well and its context,” he said. Arupula added that they have proposed development of a 0.68-acre surface water body in the memorial park located near the Kotla entrance for replenishing the well.
According to SPA, the water quality in the baoli, located adjacent to the Nizamuddin Dargah, is only fit for bathing, and there was negligible flow of sewage into the water body. SPA has proposed several interventions for further upgradation of the stepwell such as pedestrianisation of the Baoli Gate road near the entrance of the water body and checking illegal structures around the baoli. It has also been recommended that the drainage from the wuzukhana (place for ablution) of the dargah should be diverted away from the baoli.
The 14th-century baoli located in MCD’s Hindu Rao hospital was built by Feroz Shah Tughlaq-I and was the only source of water for the British officers and soldiers during the revolt of 1857, the SPA study said. The structure around the baoli is in ruins with broken steps and edges, making it inaccessible. Besides outlining the need for the structural restoration and recharge of aquifer through rain water harvesting, the SPA recommended development of a heritage trail by integrating it with the other historic structures located in the Ridge.
Diwan Singh, an environmental activist working on Delhi’s water bodies said: “Any work on revitalizing water bodies is a welcome step. Care must be taken that natural functions of the proposed water body is not compromised for any facelifting objective.”
Manu Bhatnagar, principal director of the Natural Heritage Division at Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said that until the groundwater table rises, the water bodies cannot be replenished. “Revitalisation of a water body cannot be just interpreted as appreciating these sites merely like architectural constructs,” Bhatnagar said.