Faridabad’s Badkal lake to be given new lease of life as tourist centre
At the peripheries of Gurugram and Faridabad, nestled in the foothills of the Aravallis, lie Damdama, Surajkund and Badkal lakes, which served as important public spaces in the not-so-distant past. People of a certain age still recall fond memories of these lakes, which are tightly woven into the cultural identity of South Haryana and the National Capital Region.
The Haryana government is now making a concerted effort to revive these water bodies which — due to the influence of urbanisation, illegal groundwater extraction and mining in the Aravallis — have been worn to a shadow of their former selves, ecologically and culturally speaking. With the state assembly polls approaching in October, officials say that such projects will be cleared for approval and announced in the coming months.
On July 13, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar revealed at an event pertaining to Jal Shakti Abhiyan, in Gurugram, that new lakes will be created in Kasan and Kukdaula and older ones in the region will be restored for tourism purposes.
The first of these projects to be implemented is the restoration of Badkal, which emerged as a popular tourist spot in the late 1960s. Now, the lake bed has been bone-dry for over a decade. In 2010, it was briefly filled up ahead of the Commonwealth Games, but a subsequent report by the Delhi Parks and Gardens Society (DPGS), in 2014, declared the lake to be completely dry. By some estimates, there hasn’t been any water there since 2006.
After considering multiple engineering solutions in the years since, the Haryana government, earlier this month, approved a Rs 57-crore detailed project report (DPR) for the ‘Badkal Lake rejuvenation project’, to be undertaken as part of the Faridabad Smart City Mission.
Mohit Kilam, a filmmaker from Mumbai who grew up in Faridabad, remembers well the sight of water in Badkal’s lake bed.
“Growing up in Faridabad, a trip to Badkal was one of the first public outings your parents took you on. There were no malls and cafes and such at the time, so everyone flocked to the lake,” he said.
Shortly after the lake was created in the 1960s (by building a bundh between two low-lying Aravalli hills, to trap run-off for irrigation in nearby agricultural fields), it became a vibrant tourist spot where one might have gone boating, taken a horse ride, feasted on a snack, or just sat by the lakefront on a pleasant day.
Sudhanshu Nayyar, a resident of Faridabad, recalls, “It was the pride of the region — a real marker of identity for the city and its people.”
However, for the current generation of children, Badkal lake is little more than a piece of folklore.
The lake’s 42-odd hectares are now overrun with scrubby mesquite trees. Rampant mining in the adjoining Aravalli hills has altered the region’s hydrogeology, ravaged the catchment areas and damaged the underlying groundwater aquifer.
A 2010 research survey led by geologist Sudhanshu Shekhar, titled ‘Conservation of hydrogeological heritage : A case study of Badkhal lake’, stated, “Mining activities, including blasting over the years, have denuded the catchments areas, which led to soil erosion, creation and opening up of secondary porosity. Mining also generated huge amounts of debris which block the flow of rainwater into the lakes.”
Local activists also report that construction works in the hilly catchment areas (large parts of which are notified under the Punjab Land Preservation Act), and illegal groundwater extraction by residential settlements and bottling plants, have also led the lake to its ruin.
The Faridabad Smart City Limited’s (FSCML) attempts at reviving the lake bed are not the first intervention being made in the matter, but will be the first likely to be implemented. NK Katara, technical advisor, FSCML, said, “The matter was earlier entrusted to the irrigation department, which was unable to find a constant source of water with which to replenish the lake bed. They had, in 2017, tried supplying water from the Okhla canal, but that was not a viable option.”
Then, the state approached Manav Rachna University in 2018, which prepared a report suggesting that STP water may be used for the same. Experts from IIT-Roorkee were then roped in to collect soil samples and conduct infiltration tests on the lake bed.
“Finally, in March 2018, the CM entrusted us to handle the project, which is being done in consultation with IIT-Roorkee. We are expediting it for implementation, beginning sometime in August,” Katara added.
According to the proposal submitted by IIT-Roorkee in March this year, the lake bed will be freed of all invasive tree species and compacted with a slurry of bentonite clay, to impede groundwater recharge. Following this, an STP, which will be constructed, will supply the lake bed with about 9.5 MLD of treated water per day, for about 200 days.
This will give the lake a depth of about six metres, which is enough to sustain a small boat.
The forest department has already granted permission to axe trees that have taken root on the lake bed. Katara added that the project would include widening the bundh and replenishing smaller johads (ponds) around the lake.
“After that, we will reduce the flow of water to about 2.7MLD per day to meet evaporation and seepage losses. We also have plans to develop a lakefront and a marina, and a ‘Smart Surface’ parking lot in the area, which will attract tourists,” said Garima Mittal, CEO, FSCML. If all goes well, the dry lake bed will be replaced by a water body as soon as next March.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, believe that this revival is merely cosmetic and does not aim to holistically restore the area’s ecology. “Using bentonite will impede groundwater recharge and create a water body, but it can’t be called a lake,” said Vijay Dhasamana, an ecologist who has helmed the restoration of Gurugram’s Aravalli Biodiversity Park.
A lake does not exist in isolation and is dependent on a healthy catchment area. In Badkal’s case, the catchment has been completely denuded, he explained. “A thorough revival would not just look at how to fill up the lake bed, but would also declare the Aravallis as a reserved forest, and address the issue of saturating the aquifer,” Dhasmana said.
An official in the FSCML involved with the project, on the condition of anonymity, said, “We have no plans in that regard. It is not in our purview.”
There are also concerns about using sewage treated water. “In India, we have a terrible history of quality control and regulation. For instance, Lodi Garden in Delhi gets untreated water, in the guise of STP water. If the same happens in Badkal, it will have adverse consequences for the region’s ecology,” Dhasmana said.
Shashank Shekhar, another geologist from Delhi University, believes that an entire ecological restoration of the area is a futile attempt. “In my view, the catchment and aquifers have been damaged beyond repair. It would be a very intensive task to restore the catchment which feeds the lake. The restoration plans, which have been announced, are technically sound, but not ecologically sound.”