Reviving water bodies finally picks up

Gurgaon experienced an unusually wet winter this time. Rain gods obliged and the city had decent rainfall that helped reduce pollution somewhat. Hopefully, all the rain water did not run off and some did percolate down to raise the ground water level. Had there been enough means to store this water in the city, it could have served us well in the summer crunch months.

Just till about 60 -70 years back, Gurgaon was replete with water bodies that merrily captured both the rainwater and the water flowing downhill from the Aravallis slopes. As per a first-of-its-kind study done by Gurgaon Metropolitan Development Authority, the Gurgaon district had some 644 small and large water bodies. Three main data sources – the revenue record of 1956, the Survey of India map 1976 and the world view satellite imagery of 2012 – were used to ascertain this number. Some water bodies were confirmed through only one data source, some through two, but a good 124 water bodies were confirmed in all three data sources.

Sadly enough, the 644 number is just an academic number that holds little significance. Of it, 153 water bodies have vanished beyond recovery. Another 53 bodies face severe threat due to intentional landfilling, garbage and construction waste dumping, encroachment and construction. (This comes across as hardly a surprise since land topography has been completely ignored to maximise real estate development in the city. Buildings have come up right upon low-lying places that once had johads (traditional name for ponds and lakes). Besides, another 132 water bodies face contamination due to discharge of industrial affluent and waste water. A good 44 cannot be called water bodies as they experience only seasonal water-logging.

Gurgaon must earnestly restore those water bodies that can still be saved. Earlier, in 2016, a study by an environment consultant Future Institute listed 13 ponds in urban Gurugram that could be saved immediately. These are Sukhrali (sector 17 C), Ghata ( sector 58), Fazilpur Jharsa (sector 72), Begumpur Khatola ( sector 74), Garauli Kalan (sector 37), Badshahpur (sector 66), Saraswati Kunj ( sector 56) Basai (Sector-9B), Sarai Alawardi (Sector-110), Jahazgarh (Sector-106), Sarhol (Sector-37), Kadipur (Sector-10) and Dhanwapur (Sector-104). Tendering work on Basai and Sarawati Kunj was initiated but could not be followed through.

Of late, the momentum in pond revival has picked up. Gurujal, a society formed by the district administration in 2019 for ensuring water security is laying down process specifications, technologies as well as facilitating clearances and approvals from government departments. Several Gurgaon-based corporates are adopting one pond each and providing CSR funds. Besides, NGOs such as “I am Gurgaon” and Force have also taken up pond revival. Funds under central schemes such as Swachh Bharat Mission and Jal Shakti Abhiyan are also available.  

In the urban areas, I am Gurgaon has initiated work in Wazirabad and Sikanderpur ponds. Cleaning water bodies within the populated city is challenging as waste and waste water continuously flows from the neighbouring settlements. Often water has to be recirculated through treatment systems to keep it clean. Some of the water bodies in the city outskirts where contractors have started work are Tajnagar, Mojabad, Hariahera, Bohrakalan, Bilaspur, Khentawas, Iqbalpur and Kasan.

Reviving a water body has multiple spin offs. The most important and long-term benefit is the ground water recharge. Gurgaon’s water table has reached a very low level of 35 metres as ground water extraction has been over 300 per cent. As the city gets increasingly concretised, the ability for ground to absorb water is declining and most rainfall water just runs off cause flooding. Water bodies act as flood buffers and help stock water that improves the water table. In the rural areas, the water can be used for irrigation and upkeep of animals.  By planting native trees around the water body, the local ecology is restored, and birds and butterflies begin to flock the area. Thus, local bio-diversity is encouraged. Walkways and cycle paths can be built around it. Finally, these spaces can be developed as places for social interaction, recreation, education and cultural exchange.

Several stakeholders have a role to play. Town planners can ensure that no more construction comes up on water bodies and low-lying areas. Authorities can facilitate through providing access and clearances, removing encroachments, maintaining water quality etc. But the role of local population is the key; there has to be a complete buy in from them for ensuring long-term sustainability of the project. A sense of pride and ownership in taking responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the pond has to emerge from neighbouring residents.  Those who do not have a pond in vicinity can locate a city pond that’s up for revival and volunteer in the area of community mobilisatiion, greening, landscaping or simply using the facility.   

Amidst the maddening urban sprawl, water bodies could emerge as tranquil outdoor public spaces to relax, rejuvenate and meet-up while they quietly and silently work to recharge the city’s ground water. Let’s get water, and with it the birds and butterflies, back to Gurgaon!

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