I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.
The Surajkund lake or more popularly called The Peacock Lake, is one of the many lakes facing the consequences of unsustainable urbanization. Situated at the low end of the Aravalli Hills, what once was a beautiful lake has now turned into a human encroached area. Lots of villas, hotels and other structures now exist there with glimpses of local villagers playing cricket.
Built in the tenth century by a tomar ruler named Suraj Pal in honour of his daughter (or so it is believed), it was constructed in the shape of a rising sun with semi-circular embankment steps. Initially designed as a water tank, it got it’s name when peacocks were seen dancing on the banks of the kund every monsoon giving the arena an entirely different look. In the 1980s, the lake also attracted a lot of religious people as it was believed that a sun temple existed there during the Islamic period.
The ocean of minerals, Aravalli hills is present near the kund. Every monsoon, the rain water flowed from the hills towards the kund filling it up. When the water gushed in so did the peacocks, increasing the tourism of the area. With increasing tourism, the place also started attracting miners. By the year 1984, the first ever mining contract was given to a contractor for a period of ten years. The mining activities progressed and the gaps caused by these mining were never rehabilitated. This eventually blocked the flow of rain water to the lake, thus depriving the reservoir from its major source of water. Over the years, the peacock lake lost its water and so its peacocks. Thereby becoming only a carved space with steps.
After seeing the plight of the lake, environmental activist Mr. M.C. Mehta filed a petition to aid the cause. In the 1996 proceedings of M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India (filed in 1985), the Supreme Court issued strict orders against construction activities in the area. No construction of any type was allowed from that time onwards around 5 kms of the lake and all open areas existing in the area would have to be turned into green belts. The 5 km radius was also notified as a “sensitive area“. Even as the other advocates countered against the plea, the court also directed that green plantation be done at 1 km distance around the lake to mitigate the effects of mining as much as possible. But, as the directions were issued in favor of Sustainable Development, did it really go as the Union hoped? How come the beautiful lake is no longer remembered as a mark of our ancient history?
Mining- Yes or No? Construction? Okay!
After the 1996 hearings, more petitions followed in Supreme Court. In 1992, all mining activities were approved in the Aravalli hills. Following which, the years 2002 and then 2009 saw the coin toss scheme. In 2002, judgement was passed twice by Supreme Court on whether or not mining should be done. Then in 2009, mining activities were banned in the Aravalli hills again. Amidst this yes-no game, the Rajasthan State Mining and Geology Department redefined a hill to avoid the controversy altogether. As a result of this, illegal mining activities continued in the Aravallis. Many builders approached the area as well and started constructed villas and hotels in the place using borewells to extract ground water.
What was the result? The beautiful hill range lost majority of its nutrients and has become severely eroded due to deforestation with no time for replenishment. The remaining Aravalli quartzite rocks have no porosity whatsoever that the rainwater may seep through to the water table. Leases, now in the name of many developers have been used for building and construction while only a strict no has been said to mining. What has made the situation even worse is that the mining gaps left unrestored, have created depressions within the area. The depressions have either become stagnated with dirty water in further succession to spread of epidemics or the have become a home for rats, deadly pit viper snakes and even beetles or new fresh water lakes (that retain water throughout the year) have appeared.
Now you may think, isn’t it a good thing that new lakes have appeared? No! It is proof that the aquifer is badly punctured and instead of the ground water table being recharged, the water has now sucked up into the mining depressions forming illegal lakes. Sure, the illegal lakes add upto the aesthetic value of the area, but that’s about it. If these illegal lakes are further developed into tourist spots then it definitely may not end well for the Aravallis as well as the natural lakes present in the area. The natural lakes, Surajkund lake as well as Badhkal lake (another natural lake present in Haryana facing the consequences of unsustainable urbanization) are no longer receiving water and soon the groundwater may also become completely zero. A filled up Surajkund reservoir was last seen in the year 2008 after which it became dry (water evaporation and its disability to receive rain water). In addition to that, if the situation is prolonged then Faridabad (dependent on 100% ground water) and Gurgaon (dependent on 40% ground water) areas will majorly lose their freshwater source.
Nearby to the Surajkund lake, lies the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. The constructed villas along the area have not only impacted the natural lake’s source of water but forest area as well. Much of the forest area has been taken up by these villas. The entire area including the Surajkund lake where once even species like Jackal were sighted, is now heading towards what we Indians might call “Khandar”.
After many pleas made by environmental activists and the hydrology report submitted by Central Ground Water Board of Chandigarh, the Supreme Court has finally decided to work on the Aravallis and the dried up natural lakes. Environmental Impact Assessment studies are now being undertaken by environmentalists and the developers having land leases in that area are now being brought by the Ministry for questioning. The plantation done by the developers is also being questioned. Plans to re-use wastewater from decentralized Sewage Treatment Plants, use of meters to monitor the water flow, rehabilitation of sewerage network infrastructure, rainwater harvesting and storm water use of public buildings are being brought up for revival of Badhkal lake by Haryana Government. As for Surajkund lake, nobody is ready even now to take the responsibility of it’s restoration and debates are still going on as to how the feeding channels can be left undisturbed.
Just out of curiosity, do you remember the lake where all of us as children used to go for boating? The one next to Purana Quila? Yes! Exactly the one that has just recently been revived. For those of you who don’t know about its history and lake’s revival efforts, I will brief you upon it. Purana Quila lake is one of the oldest lakes of our country that got ruined due to increasing tourism activity and thereby pollution. For its revival, National Building Construction Corporation Limited along with IIT Roorkee researchers lay an ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM) membrane at the lining bed of lake and for ground water recharge developed a well-designed rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge system thus creating a sustainable habitat. The lake is now fully restored to its natural glory but not yet open to tourists for boating. Some strict rules have also been set up for tourists entering the area to avoid future pollution.
If the government, does ever decide to take upon the responsibility of restoration of Peacock Lake, then our beloved Purana Quila lake example can be taken into account. The plastic sheet concept is also used widely around the world for construction of swimming pools and setting up of artificial lakes.
The tough reality
The Supreme court has completely banned further mining as well as construction in the Aravallis on May 8, 2015. Revival efforts as well as environment impact assessment studies are also being conducted, but few questions still remain. Even in the most ideal scenario, construction HAS to continue. If not in Surajkund then in other districts of Delhi NCR.
So, what will happen now that the construction material cannot be sourced from the Aravallis? Is this the beginning to another mountain being flattened?
- Amandeep Kang (2015) ‘Mining effect: Aravalli gets new lakes’, DownToEarth. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/mining-effect-aravalli-gets-new-lakes-41145 (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- Dipak Kumar Dash (2009) ‘Lakes disappear in mining pit | Delhi News – Times of India’, Times of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Lakes-disappear-in-mining-pit/articleshow/4157450.cms (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- E-Law (1996) ‘ENVIRONMENTAL LAW RESEARCH AND GUIDANCE FOUNDATION’. Available at: http://elaw.in/landuse/mining/badkal.htm (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- NDTV Education Team (2018) ‘IIT Roorkee Researchers To Help Rejuvenate Purana Qila Lake’, NDTV. Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/education/iit-roorkee-researchers-to-help-rejuvenate-purana-qila-lake-1941984 (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- Press Trust of India (2018) ‘Purana Qila lake revival being done as per IIT-Roorkee suggestions: NBCC tells NGT | delhi news | Hindustan Times’, Hindustan Times. Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/purana-qila-lake-revival-being-done-as-per-iit-roorkee-suggestions-nbcc-tells-ngt/story-bNrLGMR0zl39omGJ1fF3aI.html (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- Priyanka Bhardwaj (2011) ‘Surajkund – A Lake No More!’, Times Of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/Hourglass/surajkund-a-lake-no-more/ (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- Sushmita Sengupta (2015) ‘Aravallis undermined’, DownToEarth. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/aravallis-undermined-3473 (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- The pioneer (2016) ‘Haryana set to revive Badkhal, Surajkund lakes’, Pioneer. Available at: https://www.dailypioneer.com/2016/india/haryana-set-to-revive-badkhal-surajkund-lakes.html (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
- The Tribune (2018) ‘Work on revival of Badkhal Lake begins’, The Tribune. Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/work-on-revival-of-badkhal-lake-begins/580126.html (Accessed: 23 December 2018).
I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.