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Historic stepwells full of modern filth

Despite witnessing the wettest monsoon in decades, baolis (stepwells) across the Capital continue to present a pitiable spectacle.

delhi Updated: Nov 08, 2010 00:51 IST
Nivedita Khandekar
Nivedita Khandekar
Hindustan Times

Despite witnessing the wettest monsoon in decades, baolis (stepwells) across the Capital continue to present a pitiable spectacle. Under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), these stepwells are filled more with polybags, plastic bottles and filth than water.

Baolis or stepwells form an important part of the Capital’s architectural and cultural heritage. These stepwells have been in use for ages as a popular method of water conservation.

While some of the baolis in Delhi are known for their medicinal properties (like the one at Nizamuddin Dargah), others are known for their beautiful architecture (Agrasen ki Baoli). The one inside the Red Fort is unique in design with a huge tank just outside the actual well and steps leading to the tanks from two sides in L-shape.

In connection with a court case, the ASI as a sample showcase, had earlier repaired and revived the Agrasen ki Baoli near Connaught Place. However, it was supposed to carry out similar jobs for the remaining wells across the Capital. The stepwell at Red Fort, for instance, is brimming with water.

Delhi witnessed one of the wettest monsoons this year with 1031.5 mm rainfall as against the normal rainfall of 645.7 mm (data as on September- end), as per the Met office.

However, when the Hindustan Times visited some of the baolis , it was found that all that the ASI-maintained baolis can hold is not more than a few buckets of rain water out of the total rainfall received.

For instance, the level of water at the Gandhak ki Baoli in Mehrauli at the end of the monsoon was very low.

Mohammad Rizwan (38), a resident of Adhchini and a regular visitor to the nearby Bakhtiyar Kaki ka Dargah, says, “This monsoon, the water level hardly reached the first step of the well. I have been coming here for more than 20 years now. I had never seen the water level so low. The steps are mostly broken and nobody seems to be bothered about repairing them.”

Echoing Rizwan’s sentiments, Surendra Kumar (50), who runs a grocery shop opposite the baoli at Mehrauli, says, “It is not just a maintenance problem. The authorities dug up two bore wells, one each on the south and north side around 10-12 years ago. The water level started going down since then.”

The ASI on its part blames the shortage of manpower for the continuing problem. “We agree that the ASI needs to maintain it properly. But with very less people at hand to carry out the work, we are helpless,” said a senior ASI official on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the media.

“According to an affidavit filed in the court, the ASI had claimed that they would regularly maintain and clean the baolis under their protection,” says Vinod Jain of Tapas, an NGO. Jain has been pursuing a case in the Delhi High Court to save the water bodies across Delhi. Garbage galore

All that Jain and others of his ilk feel is the ASI should ideally maintain the 13 baolis across the Capital as promised besides working on the nine-point formula for water harvesting.

First Published: Nov 07, 2010 22:56 IST