Narela: How A Growing Delhi Is Destroying Its Ponds

Ponds are an essential asset for our survival. They store rainwater and work as groundwater recharge points. They can also treat sewage to some extent. Not long back, ponds water was used for potable purposes.  Since ancient time, they have been central to numerous cultural and economic activities. In fact, village communities had certain set of rules for the preservation of village ponds. But things seem to have changed drastically specially in urban areas in recent decades. Through this field report comprising of latest images, we try to present current status of ponds in and around Narela in Delhi city.

Narela Ponds

Google earth image of the ponds mentioned in Narela town

Once famous for red chilly crops, orchards, Goddess Mata Mansa Devi fair and most importantly for its ponds, Narela[1] in North West Delhi is, now among fast growing parts of National Capital. Surrounded by Haryana State from three sides, over few decades, the small town has grown into major economic hub for scores of neighboring villages belonging to Delhi and Haryana State.

Historically it was a Sarai (halting point) for traders and invaders enroute Delhi and Central India. Currently it is widely known for Asia’s largest food grain mandi.

Narela Construction

Various ongoing and developed constructional projects in Narela (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat) 

In past couple of decades, there have been massive changes in land use in Narela[2] which is now being promoted as sub-city by urban planners. Almost all the agriculture land (hundreds of acres) has been acquired by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to make way for the development of residential, commercial and industrial projects including rehabilitation of huge slum area. As a result, the landscape once dotted with ponds locally known as Johads is undergoing multiple changes and in the process destroying the ponds. 

Here is a brief pictorial account on handful of Narela ponds and the adverse impacts of urbanization they are subjected to.

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With no water stored, Patodi Johad has now become a playground (Image by Author) 

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Sadly the pond bed has been cemented to have better cricketing experiences (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat)

Patodi Johad This is main village pond of Mamurpur in Narela[3]. The rain-fed pond, originally was spread over 30 acres but construction of Narela-Singhu Border road some forty years ago, curtailed it down to less than 10 acres. Once commonly used for cattle bathing and various purposes, conversion of storm water channels into sewage carriers leading to the ponds degraded the precious resource into stinking water body. Soon it became an eyesore of local residents. In due course of time, the sewage water diversion projects were taken up causing gradual drying up of the pond. Further, pond beautification project carried few years back by DDA filled up the major part of remaining pond area leaving hardly 2 acres of land for water storage. With increase in built up area around, the pond lies dry even during monsoons.

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Dharani Johad is being used as DTC bus parking (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat) 

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Dumping of solid waste in the dry pond has become a common practice (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat 

Dharani Johad As per locals, this pond was constructed on about 5 acres of land, some two centuries back, to meet water requirements for cattle during lean seasons. A well was also built on one corner of the pond for potable water purposes. The well fell into disuse following Government Water Supply schemes initiated during 1960s, 1970s and surrounding area was developed into residential colonies disrupting rainwater runoff to the pond. For last three decades the low lying area is being used by Delhi Transport Department (DTC) for bus parking. Encroachment and dumping of solid waste is slowly eating into the pond area.

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The little water collected in the pond is a result of temple cleaning processes (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat) 

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Once perennial, the pond is now filled with groundwater during annual fair (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat)  

Mansa Devi Sarovar The small pond is part of famous Mansa Devi temple. Thousands of devotees throng to the temple during Navratra fair and have a holy deep in the pond. Two decades back it was perennial water body filled naturally due to high water table and rainwater. The indiscriminate pumping out of groundwater earlier for agriculture and now for various needs has significantly exhausted the aquifers. The huge temple complex has also been concretized. As a result, the pond and the well by the pond have dried up. Currently the pond is filled up by tube wells during annual fair to facilitate the bathing rituals.

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The Mughal era tank , a good rainwater harvesting site (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat) 

Talab (Mughal era tank) Spread over 20 acres, the pond in records is known as Talab[4] and was created during Mougal time. Underground canal was laid to fill the historical water body with the Yamuna River water via Western Yamuna Canal (WYC). The pond has been lying empty since time immemorial but concerned people say that diversion and storing of rain water in the Talab can be helpful to meet the year round water requirement of entire Narela town. 

Dada Mai Pond

Dada Mai Talab (another perennial water body, now cemented completely (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat)

 

Bankner Dada Mai (a much revered spiritual deity) Talab Like Mansa Devi Sarovar, this is a highly worshiped temple in Bankner, a nearby village. The pond is locally known as Dada Mai Talab temple. Till few decades back, the high water table kept the small pond filled perennially making it central to various rituals in temple premises. With lowering of water table, the pond first became seasonally dry and in following years, turned bone dry. Recently, in a worst example of pond destruction, the entire pond area has been concretized. 

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This village pond in Bankner is filled with Yamuna canal water (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat) 

Bankner Pond 2 The second pond in the Bankner village resembles much like a village pond. It is filled with WYC water supplied to villagers twice or thrice in a year. Most of the villagers are still practicing farming. The pond is mainly used for bathing of cattle by villagers. Now, they report of great difficulties in getting water for the pond from irrigation department. A private water bottling unit installed in an adjoining plot discharges left over water in the pond.

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Bankner Pond 3: The third big pond area in the village has been developed into a playground to encourage sport activities in the village (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat)

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Bankner Pond 4: The fourth pond in the same village has become useless and its banks are strewn with solid waste (Image by Bhim Singh Rawat)

Images of the other ponds in neighboring villages

Ponds in Northwest Delhi

Google earth image of villages mentioned in the report

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Holambi Khurd village pond (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj)

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Water hyacinth in Holambi Kalan (Metro Vihar) Pond (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Building derbies dumped in Holambi Kalan pond (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Deprived of rainwater runoff, this renovated Holambi Khurd village pond under Delhi Horticulture Department has also become a playground (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Solid and liquid waste finding its way into Alipur village pond (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Another Alipur village pond has been leveled and developed into playground (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Hiranki village pond: Despite spending huge on renovation, the only thing the pond misses is water (rain) (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

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Mukhmelpur village pond at the receiving end of solid and liquid waste (Image by Yayati Bhardwaj) 

General observations Almost all the above mentioned villages in North West Delhi have two or more ponds. Most of the village ponds have succumbed to urbanization processes. With change in land use and life style, village community, once woven around ponds appears totally disconnected from the pond culture. The urban governance has shown no interest in the ponds.

None of the ponds I visited anymore store and harvest rainwater. Various development works (diversion of storm water drains) and increase in built up area in ponds catchment have deprived the ponds from rainwater run-off. Due to administration lethargy ponds land are being misused as playgrounds, parking spaces, solid waste dumps and discharge of waste water.

Lowering of water table has taken its toll on these ponds. Couple of ponds still in use for economical and cultural reasons are either being filled with ground or canal water sources.

Lack of general awareness among villagers on the importance of ponds has led to destruction of pond lands. Though Government agencies are spending crores of rupees on the pond beautification, these projects apparently have hampered the basic pond functions of storing and harvesting rainwater.

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Despite all these hurdles, ponds in North West Delhi still provides an opportunity to Government agencies and concerned stakeholders to restore and revive them and make them integral part of the water sector. This is minimum we can do on this World Water Day.

Bhim Singh Rawat (we4earth@gmail.com), SANDRP

with inputs from Yayati Bhardwaj (yayatibhardwaj@gmail.com)

End Notes:

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narela

[2]http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/NGO-wants-LG-to-form-body-for-maintenance-of-wetlands/articleshow/31248113.cms

[3]http://moud.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/MoUD-threats%20faced%20by%20Urban%20water%20bodies%2027%20June%201302.pdf

[4]http://www.amarujala.com/delhi/new-delhi/New-Delhi-38729-137

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