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stepwell

Every day, an average person’s social media feed is inundated with information, worded expertly for their shock value. Last week, one such cropped up on mine and it shocked me, all right.

“India’s ground water supply to run out in 2040!” it stated in no uncertain terms. In 25 years time, our country will run out of ground water. Between now and then, as our supplies go on down, the situation will become more and more dire. Remember what it is said: the next World War may well be fought over water – or our lack of it.

Now can you imagine the starkness of our situation?

When I was discussing this with my family over Sunday lunch, after the initial round of disbelief, one of my aunts asked this: “2040? Then we still have time to undo this, right?” I do not know about undo; how could you undo generations of abuse? Every day, we waste tonnes and tonnes of water; we proceed blindly, digging bore wells here and cutting trees there, with nary a thought towards the long term repercussions. How do you even begin to try to undo that?

But this doesn’t mean that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. We still can rein things in and stem the tide of damage. We still can come up with counter measures and contingency plans that can reduce the severity of the situation. And, who knows, buy us time. Because one thing is certain: if we do not start acting with forethought now, we will be in deep trouble long before 2040.

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 Do you know what a baoli is? Baoli or bawdi is a traditional step well, which were quite common in  our country for centuries. Stepwells were found even in the the days of the Indus Valley civilisation. A pond or well serving a local area would have deep stone steps cut into its sides so that the people could climb down to the water and help themselves to it. These baolis had huge cultural significance to the lives of the people of the community, all of which came to an end with the advent of the British Raj.

But now, they are seeming something of a resurgence. Rapid depletion of ground water has made the people look into alternate sources and coupled with rainwater harvesting methodologies, baolis are being seen as good ways of combating the severe water shortage across the country. Many of the baolis have either fallen into disrepair or have been destroyed completely, thanks to the rapid and mindless urbanisation. In Delhi, for example, only 15 remain.

Under the guidance of NGOs and archeological trusts, the existing baolis are slowly being restored. Perennial problem demands a solution beyond the times, surely.