History | Life |

Tales of two Cities: Heritage Water Management Systems

Summer is almost at the doorstep already. Today in the scorching heat and temperature going up to 45 to 50 degree, we all huddle in the air conditioner room in our homes, offices or in the malls or as a weekend getaways we all rush to nearby hill stations. People strolling and loitering in the parks or streets would be a rare sight. Now imagine more than a century back, cities littered with water bodies and numerous wells, water tank, steps wells, and lakes. These would have helped people back then to cope up with harsh summer heat waves. In India, most of the region had developed its own traditional water conservation techniques to counter its geographical peculiarities. Today on 22nd March 2017 ‘World Water Day’, we will look at cities, Delhi and Bengaluru which used to be shrouded by such elaborate water systems, reminding us the socio-cultural milieu and uniqueness of the region in the past. People in the past were naturally connected with the nature and environment around them with a sense of reverence of all life forms. These man-made wells and lakes were one of the life lines of people as it catered their day to day needs and facility. Unfortunately, today with increasing urbanization, exploitation and neglect, these water bodies are either in terrible conditions or completely dried up without a trace.

Delhi

Delhi once upon a time had 611 water bodies (Indian Today) and numerous wells, water tank, step wells or what is popularly known as ‘Baolis’. Some of the well-known Baolis spread across the cities are:

  1. Agarsen Ki Baoli – Hailey Road, Connaught Place
  2. Hazrat Nizammudin ki Baoli – Nizammudin West
  3. Purana Quila Baoli – Mathura Road (Near Zoo)
  4. Tughlaqabad Fort Baolis – Tughlaqabad Fort
  5. Lal Quila Baoli – Netaji Subhash Road, Chandni Chowk
  6.    Rajon ki Baoli- Mehrauli Archaeological Park of Delhi,
  7. Gandhak Ki Baoli- Mehrauli
  8. Anangtal Baoli- Mehrauli

Sohail Hashmi, an author, film-maker, points out that how in past Delhi used to have a vast and intricate network of water management system.  Some of these Baolis were not depended on the river Yammuna, instead was fed by other natural water bodies, streams which were perennial and some seasonal. Today, out of the 611 water bodies, only 337 are present but unfortunately is maligned with waste and toxic material. And about 274 have completely dried up.

Bengaluru

The city of Bengaluru consisted of 262 lakes, tanks and water bodies until the 1950’s, mostly built by early rulers of Karnataka (MoEF). Bengaluru is a perfect example of ‘nature’ taking care of mankind when natural water bodies are not available. The geographical set up of the city of Bengaluru is such that it doesn’t have access to rivers except for Cauvery which is 140 km away. However, the terrain of the city is elevated and undulated with hills and valleys which make the city perfect for natural reservoir system. The earliest record of the construction of lakes dates back to 16th century when Kempegowda, founder of Bengaluru built the Ulsoor tank. However, more than dozens of lakes in the city have been disappeared. Some of the known lakes today in Bengaluru are:

  1. Akshayanagara Kere – Situated in Akshayanagara near Hulimavu, Bannerghatta Road.
  2. Bellandur lake
  3. Ulsoor lake – Situated in Halasuru near M G Road.
  4. Sankey tank
  5. Madiwala lake
  6. Lalbagh lake
  7. Puttenahalli lake
  8. Hebbal lake
  9. Varthur lake

With the population of Delhi (18.9 million) and Bengaluru (8.4 million) soaring up, it is a serious concern to save the existing wells and lakes. Along with the policies to save and preserve these water bodies, perhaps humans need to re-connect with the very essence of nature. Today, it is necessary for us to engage with mindful awareness and consciousness to take steps to know and explore the environment around us, through, maybe, community participation in conservation of water. Vaclav Havel, former president of Czech Republic in his essay on climate change ‘Our Moral Footprint’, questions, the only technological driven solution in combating issues of climate change. It is time to think out of the box and may consider making policies compatible with, “support for education, ecological training and ethics- a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility”.

 

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