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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

Reviving the will to rejuvenate Gurugram’s traditional water systems

With passage of time and development, Gurugram seem to have completely lost the network of its natural water resources and man-made structures, resulting in annual flooding in various city areas during monsoon.

opinion Updated: Jun 29, 2018 14:08 IST
Shikha Jain
Shikha Jain
Construction work has reduced the size of Gurugram’s Ghata jeel and supporting waterways, putting strain on the environment and increasing risk of flooding.
Construction work has reduced the size of Gurugram’s Ghata jeel and supporting waterways, putting strain on the environment and increasing risk of flooding. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

The onset of monsoon is a good time to reflect on the traditional water resources of Gurugram and its surrounding districts. Traditional planning involved a deep understanding of the natural water resources in an area (rivers, catchment lakes, jhors) and supplementing them further with man-made structures (artificial lakes, bunds, baolis and kunds). These together worked as a network of water systems in the region to supplement the water needs of the people.

With passage of time and development of the Millennium City, we seem to have completely lost this network resulting in annual flooding in various city areas during monsoon. Flooding is recorded around Hero Honda Chowk, Basai, Dhankot and Sector 37. The Millennium City not only suffers from major traffic jams, damages and discomfort due to this, but the city also incurs loss of water as old catchments to trap rainwater have been encroached upon.

The tributary of Sahibi in Pataudi area of the district and its linkage with the Badshahpur Nallah to Najafagrh drain along with major catchments leading finally into Yamuna river constituted the past water systems. Traditionally, the water channels were connected in such a way that they carried rain water to fill the lakes. The drains and the lakes formed a natural system for draining water out of the city.

Gurugram’s Ghata jheel, Badshahpur jheel, Khandsa talab were all linked to the Najafgarh drain and Yamuna river. At a micro level, these were further supplemented by village-level ‘jhors’ and ponds to collect water while ‘baolis’ were tapped at appropriate locations for fresh groundwater supply. The medieval period ‘baolis’ at Badshahpur and Farrukhnagar are important remaining components of this traditional water system and so are the various ‘jhors’ in Sukhrali, Sikanderpur and other villages.

Public and private organisations have conducted several studies of water bodies of Gurugram in the last few years.

In 2016, MCG conducted a study of 120 water bodies in the city. The status of community-level water bodies is pathetic—with some already encroached upon, constructed on and, others lying neglected and serving as dumping grounds for city’s sewage and solid waste.

INTACH had also conducted mapping of the Natural Heritage features of the district in 2011, involving landscape experts including Akash Hingorani. It documented in detail major water features in Badshahpur and surrounding areas.

The Badshahpur Nallah is an important historic water channel that originates near Ghata Village, runs through various sectors of Gurugram and then merges with the Najafgarh drain. The water channel forms a pond near the Fazilpur Village. The area covered by the drain belongs to the government, and, as per the Master Plan 2021 of Gurugram, no construction is allowed over it.

This water channel, which runs through the middle of Gururgram, has great potential for recharging groundwater. The water in this channel sustains wetland biodiversity, which is quite unique to the area. It not only serves as a habitat for certain species of birds and animals but also maintains the microclimate of the place. Though the channel can be seen flowing through areas near Badshahpur Village, part of it has been built over or has dried up. It becomes virtually non-existent in the areas near sectors 35 and 37. The major threat to its existence is rampant construction.

The baolis, kunds and jhors are important components of our historic subterranean architecture. The status of each needs to be evaluated in detail and the possibility of reconnecting them to supplement water systems or to be conserved as a historic layer of the city/district needs to be considered.

The 18th century Ghaush Ali Khan Baoli in Farrukhnagar is an excellent example of subterranean architecture. Protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, it can be developed as a place where residents and tourists can learn about the workings of our traditional water systems. Unfortunately, a segment of the baoli constitutes the Jhajjar Gate, which is constantly getting damaged due to tall trucks passing through it.

The unprotected baolis at Badshahpur need to be taken under the protection of the state and inspected for possible revival—while one functions in an active akhara, the second one, near a school, can be developed as a community space.

These smaller water bodies are important for specific sectors so residents themselves need to take action and decide how they can sustain these historic water systems and integrate them with the existing settlement without impacting their historic value.

With support from the public and private sectors, there is no dearth of funding to rejuvenate these water bodies. It is just our will that needs to be revived.

As per a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, restored Ghata Jheel can have a spread of around 12 hectares and water storage potential of 12 billion litres. Along with this, treatment of Badshahpur Nallah and revival of village ponds can meet about 50% of city’s current water needs.

(Shikha Jain is state convenor, INTACH Haryana Chapter and member of Heritage Committees under ministries of culture and HRD. She is co-­editor of book ‘Haryana: Cultural Heritage Guide’; director, DRONAH (Development and Research Organisation.)

First Published: Jun 29, 2018 14:07 IST

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