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The need to use India's historic water management systems

  • Category
    Art and culture
  • Published
    19th Oct, 2021

Context

Huge architectural gems built deep into the Earth like inverted fortresses are scattered around India – and restoring them may be a solution to help the country's parched communities.

What are Stepwells?

  • Evidence of stepwells dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisationbetween 2500-1700 BC.
  • Initially constructed as crude trenches, they slowly evolved into engineering marvels between 11th-15th Century.
  • In 2016, Stepwell Atlas, mapped the coordinates of around 3,000 existing stepwells in India.
  • Delhi, the capital, alone has 32 stepwells.
  • Stepwells are multi-storied subterranean structures with significant ornamental and architectural features. They usually have two parts:
    • a vertical shaft of water
    • the cascading galleries, chambers and a flight of orchestrated steps

Water extraction in India

  • According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), India is the world's largest extractor of groundwater.
  • The groundwater level in India is estimated to have declined by 61% between 2007 and 2017. 
  • The depletion of this vital resource not only threatens people's access to drinking water but also food security by resulting in a reduction in food crops by up to 68% in severely-hit regions.
  • Rainfall in India
  • India receives about 400 million hectare metres of rain annually, but nearly 70% of surface water is unfit for human consumption due to pollution.  
  • India is ranked 120th out of 122 countries in the water quality index.
  • An estimated 200,000 people die every year due to inadequate water.

How Rajasthan is ahead in water conservation?

  • In 2018, the government of Rajasthan drew up a comprehensive framework, with technical assistance from the World Bank, for restoration of the stepwells, including Chand Bawri.
  • The Rajasthan government, through its flagship program Mukhyamantri Jal Swavalamban Abhiyanhas taken initiatives to make villages self-sufficient in water by reviving the non-functional rainwater harvesting structures.

Chand Bawri in Abhaneri, Rajasthan

  • Chand Bawri is India's largest and deepest stepwell.
  • It is an exquisitely carved maze of 3,500 steps, arranged in perfect symmetry, descends with geometrical precision to reach a well.
    • On third side, criss-crossed steps encircle the water on three sides.
    • The fourth side is adorned by a pavilion with embellished galleries and balconies.
  • Built by: Rajput ruler Raja Chanda during the 8th-9th Century.
  • Extending down 13 floors, or 100ft (30m), into the ground, it is a captivating example of inverted architecture.
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