After the successful revival of two medieval baolis in South Delhi, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has now extended the project to other water bodies and step wells in the city. Desilting and preservation work of at least five such reservoirs and one lake are expected to begin within a fortnight.
According to officials, the revival project began about three months ago when two baolis – the 13th century Gandhak ki Baoli built by Iltutmish for Sufi saint Bakhtiyar Kaki and the 16th century step well Rajon ki Baoli in Mehrauli Archaeological Park – were restored.
“We began cleaning and desilting these reservoirs till fresh water came up. That encouraged us to extend the project to other baolis. The project will begin in another 10 days or so,” ASI Superintendent Archaeologist (Delhi) Vasant Kumar said.
The desilting will help water sources in these step wells to “open up”. This will be followed by masonry repairs. The work is expected to be completed by March next year, Kumar said.
Among the tentative list of water bodies to be restored is the Agrasen ki Baoli in Connaught Place, believed to have been built by Maharaja Agrasen during the Mahabharat era and was later repaired by the Agarwal community in the 14th century.
Baolis inside Purana Qila, Bara Hindu Rao hospital and Kotla Firoz Shah as well as Hauz-i-Shamsi in Mehrauli are also being restored.
The ASI is also considering cleaning and desilting the lake outside the Old Fort.
Welcoming the move, historian Sohail Hashmi said the revival of the baolis was not only important from a heritage perspective but also because it will provide water for local use.
Baolis, Hashmi said, work on the concept of aquifers, which essentially means an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock from which groundwater can be extracted.
“There is a baoli in Matia Mahal known as ‘Baoliwali Masjid’. It is more popular locally as the ‘Banjaron ki Baoli’. The Delhi Jal Board still supplies water to at least three localities in Matia Mahal from this step well. Similarly, the lawns inside Feroze Shah Kotla are irrigated from the baoli located inside the fort. The baoli in Red Fort is probably the largest in Delhi and water from it is used to irrigate the expansive lawns there. The same holds true for Purana Quila. Water is drawn from the baoli and an old well located inside the fort,” Hashmi said.
“Until a few years ago, the Hindu Rao hospital baoli was being used as a garbage dump. But when it was cleaned, water sources were still open. If we are able to revive even half of the step wells in Delhi, there will be sufficient water available for various purposes,” Hashmi said.
The baolis, the historian said, were in use until three-four decades ago before excessive cementing started drying up the sub-soil water, rendering the step wells useless.
“It happened gradually. Gandhak ki Baoli was in use till 1970s. Major encroachments around Hauz-i-Shamsi happened in the last 30 years. The baolis are fed by sub-soil water. Today, almost 20 per cent of the city is roads. Too much use of concrete led to the present plight of baolis,” Hashmi said.