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Road plan threatens fate of 113-year-old baoli in Badshahpur

Built in 1905 by Lala Mohanlal, the Badshahpur Baoli is being used as a waste dumping yard by the local residents. A plan to fill it up with sand and build a road through it is threatening the stepwell’s existence.

gurgaon Updated: Jun 06, 2018 10:27 IST
Sadia Akhtar
Sadia Akhtar
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Gurugram,Badshahpur baoli,Gurgaon
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had in 2000 listed the Badshahpur Baoli as a heritage structure and told the government that it was an important monument which needs to be protected. (Parveen Kumar/HT Photo)

A small detour from the eternally busy Sohna Road via several construction material shops will lead you to the village of Badshahpur -- home to what locals believe is a historic baoli or stepwell. To get a clear view of the baoli, in the village that is roughly 9km from the heart of Gurugram, one has to walk through the dusty lanes lined with scores of tents belonging to construction workers.

Overburdened by the weight of trash and sewage discharge from the neighbouring villages, the area could easily be mistaken for an open defecation site if not for the over a 100-year-old decrepit slice of history. Mounds of sand surround the baoli, which, till January this year, faced the prospect of being filled up with earth and sand to make way for a road. Though timely intervention ensured the baoli was not destroyed, there is little clarity over its future.

An inscription on the baoli tells us that it was constructed in 1905 by Lala Mohanlal. “It was made with the intention of social welfare. Being an arid region, there was water scarcity in the region. As an act of social service, my ancestors got this baoli made. It was used by animals as a source of water. There used to be a well people would fill water from. Men and women used to bathe in the baoli,” said Ved Prakash Mangla, the great grandson of Mohanlal Mangla.

Mangla was the last custodian of the baoli until it was acquired by the government in 2012 in lieu of a compensation of Rs 16 lakh. He says that the baoli has remained dry for the past 15-20 years due to lowering of the water table. Next to the baoli is a school named after Mangla’s great grandfather. The main entrance is inside the premises of the school but it remains locked.

“My father Laxmi Narayan Mangla had donated a piece of land next to the baoli for the construction of a school. We thought that the school would also safeguard the baoli. If the government wants, I can return the compensation to save the baoli. If the baoli is spared, the school will also be saved. There is a sentimental value attached for me as my father’s memorial is situated inside the school. As long as the school stays, my father’s name will be alive and so will be mine,” Ved Prakash Mangla said.

Residents of Badshahpur, meanwhile, have varied opinions on the baoli and the imminent danger it faces because of construction activity. While some rue the loss of the structure, which they see as an embodiment of Badshahpur’s heritage, others say that construction of the road would make the everyday commute easier for them and offer better connectivity. Then there are those who are concerned that if road realignment happens, and it doesn’t go over the baoli, it shouldn’t go over their property either.

“Our house gets heaps of dust because of road construction. There is a lot of pollution. If the road has to be constructed, it should be done soon,” said a 40-year-old resident, who has been living close to the baoli since birth.

Ajit, another resident of Badshahpur, said, “While the baoli is important for us, it has remained in a pathetic state over the years. With or without road construction, it has never received the attention it deserves. Moreover, the baoli is used for dumping waste and acts as a breeding ground for insects. We don’t think the situation will change.”

Heritage lovers and activists, however, haven’t given up hope yet. Faculty and students from the Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Ansal University, have been undertaking several initiatives to increase engagement with the baoli. This January, the school took up a 100-day challenge to save the baoli. Various steps were taken during the duration of the challenge to raise awareness and generate relevance of the baoli for the community.

“We have been conducting awareness programmes to help people envision the future of the baoli because, as of now, everyone can see it as a garbage dump. Things changed suddenly after the government acquired the baoli in 2012. People realised that the baoli will eventually be earth-filled so they started dumping waste there. In this period from 2012 to 2018, the baoli was positioned as the village dump yard. This could have been avoided,” said Parul Garg Munjal, associate professor, Sushant School of Art and Architecture.

Munjal also questioned the idea behind the development of the new road. “Essentially, the idea of road development -- the construction of the 84-metre-wide sector road -- is quite silly when you look at where it’s going and where it’s coming from. It’s basically connecting the Sohna Road and the golf course extension road. The new road further and after crossing the Sohna Road will provide connectivity to two sectors. That’s about it.”

While officials from both the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) and the state’s department of archaeology and museums inspected the baoli earlier this year, there is little clarity over the conservation plans.

“We were assured that the baoli will be given legal protection but there has been no progress. On the face of it, everyone has assured that nothing will happen to the baoli but what are their plans? What is the level of transparency and responsiveness? The authorities are simply passing the buck,” said Munjal.

The department of archaeology and museums, meanwhile, says it is waiting for a go-ahead from the urban development authority. “The former HUDA administrator had agreed to the proposal of realignment and sparing the baoli in the past. We want HUDA to finalise its plans. Only then can we kick off our conservation efforts,” said Praveen Kumar, director of the state’s archaeology and museums department, adding that realignment of the road was possible through a small detour.

Chandra Shekhar Khare, HUDA administrator, said that the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) was handling the issue of road construction near the baoli.

“We wish to preserve the baoli. We have discussed the matter GMDA and Directorate of Archaeology. The matter is primarily being taken up by the GMDA officers,” said Khare.

The baoli was listed by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) more than a decade ago. Yet, little effort has been made by the government to preserve the structure.

“INTACH listed the baoli in 2000 and gave the list to Haryana government telling them that this was an important monument. Time and again, we have reached out to the authorities but nothing concrete seems to be changing on the ground. If we are able to come to a platform for discussion, it will be very valuable to find a solution,” said Shikha Jain, convener of the Haryana chapter of INTACH.

“Haryana really needs to wake up to its heritage. It’s high time now. Let people see what it has to offer.”

First Published: Jun 06, 2018 10:26 IST