Reclaiming the lost glory of step wells

These traditional water structures may get a leg up in Pratapgarh if the plans are realised
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Baniyon Ki Bawdi near Ram Deora at Pratapgarh town. Source: GOI Monitor

In Rajasthan, water binds the society. The absence of abundant resources led to people perfecting the science of working along with nature to conserve every drop of that fell on this land. Respect for water is evident from the colourful monuments, gardens and temples built around traditional reservoirs, whether large ponds or deep wells. 

Beautiful bawdis (step wells) spread over the cities, villages and old trading routes of the state also underscore the sustainability of traditional systems. From hosting social gatherings of the village to providing a resting place to a weary traveller, the cool pavilions of these bawdis were a respite from the harsh weather. But much water has flown under the bridge.

Most of these structures have fallen to disuse thanks to centralisation of water management and piped distribution to households by government agencies. Besides the structural damage and piling of garbage, rapid construction activities in the catchment areas have also affected their utilitarian purpose. 

Most of these structures have fallen to disuse thanks to centralisation of water management and piped distribution to households by government agencies. Besides the structural damage and piling of garbage, rapid construction activities in the catchment areas have also affected their utilitarian purpose. 

In Pratapgarh city of south Rajasthan, the bawdis are either brimming with garbage or leaked sewage water. At several places, polythene bags block the underground aquifiers which used to recharge them. The nearby fields, which were earlier utilising this water, have been taken over by commercial shops and residential complexes.

'Mamaji Ki Bawdi', located near Marwadi Complex in centre of the town, is one such structure which is filled with water but covered with a thick layer of mold. Empty plastic bags, bottles and wrappers float around. Shopkeepers inform that farmers used to draw water from the bawdi for drinking and irrigation purposes till 25 years ago but with expansion of the commercial area and supply of piped water, it has fallen to disuse. 

'Baniyon Ki Bawdi' near Ram Deora is another structure stacked with garbage. Even the idols of deities on its walls don’t garner enough respect from residents to keep the area clean. “Everybody feels it's somebody else's duty. Till 35 years ago, half of Pratapgarh used to take water from here. That was before water and electricity supply was made available,” informs Amba Lal, a farmer who draws water from the bawdi by using an electric pump for irrigation purposes. “This water is naturally rich in soil nutrients which reduce the need for use of fertilisers,” he claims. 

Regarding cleaning up of bawdis, everybody feels it's somebody else's duty. Till 35 years ago, half of Pratapgarh used to take water from here. That was before water and electricity supply was made available.

'Nanaji Ki Bawdi' on Mandi Road is in a much better condition. Enclosed with barbed wire on three sides and a temple on the fourth, it is relatively free of garbage because of low population density of the locality. Migrant labourers working with the local transport company use the water for bathing and washing purposes turning this bawdi into an essential service centre than a garbage dump. 

Thanks to the proposed plans of the Pratapgarh Municipal Corporation, most of these bawdis may see better days soon. The civic body is planning to rejuvenate these structures by linking them to hand pumps. “The water can be easily utilised for non-drinking purposes like washing. We are planning to get around 14 bawdis cleaned and covered with a wire mesh to prevent further dumping of garbage by the residents. A few privately-owned bawdis are being maintained very well by the owners since they are enclosed by high walls,” informs Kamlesh Doshi, the chairman of the municipal corporation.

The civic body is planning to rejuvenate these structures by linking them to hand pumps. The water can be easily utilised for non-drinking purposes like washing. Around 14 bawdis will be cleaned and covered with a wire mesh to prevent further dumping of garbage by the residents.

It has been estimated that Rs 2.90 lakh will be required to revive each bawdi which will include removal of garbage, unblocking of recharging channels, desiltation, installation of protective structure and repair works. A proposal sent to the state government for allocation of funds for the purpose was turned down and now the municipal corporation has to generate its own funds for the work. “Though city planners are creating new water storage structures and laying pipelines, they are paying little or no attention to infuse life into traditional water structures. As the water crisis continues to become severe, there is a dire need for this,” says Doshi. 

Community participation on this issue has been symbolic. “Every year before monsoon, a few residents help clean the bawdis but the momentum is lost after a few days. The real motivation will only come when they start using the water even if for non-drinking purposes,” the chairman addsi. The stakes are high. If a water surplus city like Pratapgarh can turn the clock back, it will set an example for others to follow.

Comments

welcome initiative by the local body. various high courts and SC has asked to save water bodies. let people realise the fact that there is no life without water.

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