Chandigarh is high on rainwater harvesting

Chandigarh, March 3 (IANS) In addition to its clean, wide roads and thick green cover, the Union Territory of Chandigarh can also boast of successfully running one of the biggest rainwater harvesting projects in the country.

The initiative, which was earlier only aimed at saving the Sukhna Lake, a prominent tourist destination here, has now emerged as an exemplary model of rainwater harvesting and soil and moisture conservation in the region.

The Chandigarh forest department has constructed as many as 193 water bodies (check-dams) to save the Sukhna Lake from disappearing. These water bodies of varying sizes conserve rain water and prevent silt from entering the man-made Sukhna Lake.

‘There are 193 water bodies preserving rain water in the catchment area of the Sukhna Lake called the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over an area of 25.42 sq km,’ Chandigarh’s former conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden Ishwar Singh told IANS.

He added: ‘This is quite extraordinary not only in India but in the whole of Asia, as nowhere will you find this density of water bodies. Their basic purpose is to desilt and to continuously feed the Sukhna Lake and to support wildlife and migratory birds that flock to this sanctuary.’

A variety of butterflies, birds and animals like wild boars, pangolin, mongoose, deer, Indian civet, peacocks, red jungle fowl and snakes like the Indian python and Russell’s viper are seen in this sanctuary.

A recent study conducted by the NGO Society for Promotion and Conservation of Environment (SPACE) reveals that these water bodies not only gave the Sukhna Lake an extended life span but also improved the soil’s fertility, raised the underground water table and facilitated thick vegetation and plantation.

Sukhna Lake, a three sq km rain-fed lake, is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, the Shivalik hills. It is very popular among tourists, boating enthusiasts and daily morning and evening walkers.

Chandigarh’s forest-cum-finance secretary Sanjay Kumar told IANS: ‘This is a perfect example of large-scale rainwater harvesting. Further, the moisture retention in soil is contributing vastly towards biodiversity in the Shivalik region. Thanks to these water bodies, intense plantation has been done in the area, converting the entire Shivalik hills into a thick forest.’

He added: ‘Once the rate of soil erosion in the catchment area of the Sukhna Lake was 160 tonnes per hectare per year in 1988. But after the set up of these water bodies, it has been bought down to only five tonnes per hectare per year, and no fresh silt is now coming into the lake.’

Apart from these 193 water bodies, there are two more such bodies in the Patiala ki Rao forest near Dhanas village and two more water bodies and an artificial lake in Chandigarh’s botanical garden near Sarangpur village here, which are also significantly contributing to rainwater harvesting.

‘In the wake of the growing population, these water bodies have maintained Chandigarh’s ecological balance that you will find nowhere in the country. Every year they also attract a huge number of both domestic and foreign tourists to this city,’ Rohit Ruhella, a city-based environmentalist, told IANS.

Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, is the only planned city in independent India. It was designed by legendary French architect Le Corbusier for a population of 500,000, but now the city accommodates over 1.1 million people and a floating population of over 100,000 a day.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at alkesh.s@ians.in)

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