Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Water Wisdom of the Mughals

Burhanpur town on the banks of the River Tapti in the foothills of the Satpura Range was the southern outpost of the Mughals. Consequently, it had a massive garrison of soldiers numbering two lakhs and a supporting civilian population of around thirty thousand in the early seventeenth century when the Mughals not only wanted to defend their territory against possible incursions from southern kingdoms but also had plans to expand further south. Providing safe drinking water to this huge population was a major concern of the Mughal administrators. They feared that the water of the River Tapti and its tributary Utavali may be poisoned by their enemies and so they preferred the use of ground water. However, wells themselves could not provide enough water and also it was laborious to draw water out of them for such a large population in those days when there were no mechanised pumps.
The Subedar or Governor of Burhanpur Abdul Rahim Khankhana commissioned a Persian geologist Tabukul Arj to devise a system that would be able to harvest the rain water falling on the Satpura ranges and bring them by gravity to the town in 1615. A very ingenious plan was drawn up wherein a few large tanks named Mool Bhandara or main water store and Chintaharan Bhandara or tension free water store and Sookha Bhandara or dry water store were constructed to harvest the rain water and recharge it into the ground. Finally a 3.5 km long tunnel about thirty feet below the ground level, lined with marble, was constructed just uphill of the town into which the water from the three other Bhandaras seeped in through the ground as shown below.
Over the years the calcium and magnesium salts in the seeping water have been deposited on the walls of the tunnel as can be seen above and have reduced both the amount of water seeping in and the storage capacity from a supply level which was once as much as a million litres per day. There are 103 round wells that reach this tunnel from the top at intervals and provide access to it for cleaning it of any debris and sediments that might have accumulated. The water in the tunnel flows by gravity from the first well to the last well at the end of which there is a tank from which pipelines take the water to the town below. The wells are called kundis whereas the tunnel is called Khooni Bhandara possibly because of the slightly reddish colour of the water in it.
As the needs of Burhanpur grew in the twentieth century alternative mechanised water supply was implemented from the Utavali river leading to neglect of this gravity based system and it finally became defunct in 1977 due to clogging with sediment.
Then in 2001 the Burhanpur municipal corporation sought to revive the Khooni Bhandara and with funds collected from the local citizens and grant support from the Government the tunnel was cleaned and some of the wells that had collapsed were repaired. Water began seeping in again and currently about 0.15 million litres of water per day flows out of the tunnel. The lower flow of water is also due to the higher withdrawal of groundwater in the catchment through pumps. A lift has been installed in the third well which allows visitors to go down and see the tunnel which is how the photo above was taken.
What struck me most was the ingenuity of the Mughals in devising a system that first tapped the rain water by harvesting it and then used an underground tunnel to extract it and take it by gravity to the town. This was a necessity at the time because there were no mechanised pumps to do lift water from the underground aquifer at that time. This tunnel was dug by human labour obviously as there were no machines then and this adds to the uniqueness of the system. Even though the Burhanpur municipality finally had the sense to revive this historic system it has not had the further sense to replicate it in other areas around Burhanpur to make it completely independent of mechanised systems. Water harvesting is the most sustainable means of water supply. The municipality has beautified the area around the third well where visitors can pay a fee and descend into the well in the lift and also applied for world heritage status for the Khooni Bhandara. However, instead of just reviving it as a heritage which is no doubt laudable, the municipality would have set an even better example by replicating this fantastic sustainable water system devised by the Mughals for the whole water supply.

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