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Indore Reviving Historic Lakes to Combat Water Crisis, Hurdles Remain

Indore's overreliance on Narmada River's waters, coupled with dwindling groundwater reserves, paints a grim future. Recognizing this predicament, the Indore Municipal Corporation is revitalizing the city's lakes to achieve water self-sufficiency.

By Pallav Jain and Rajeev Tyagi
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Indore lake channels

Indore Municipal Corporation worker inspecting Lake channel work

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On the outskirts of Indore city, JCB is digging the land to clear the water channels for the upcoming monsoon. An annual practice is being performed with utmost seriousness considering the severity of Indore’s water scarcity. Indore Municipal Corporation has banned mining for tube wells till June 30th, to safeguard the precious groundwater, which has fallen to 600 feet in some places in the city. Since March 15th, the Municipal Corporation has been, through JCB and Poclain digger machines, identifying and deepening the channels that supply water to the ponds, and lakes.

The city, quite like Bengaluru, has not preserved its lakes and water bodies. Apart from lakes, rivers Kanh, and Saraswati are significantly polluted, and rejuvenation projects are in place to revive them.

Saraswati river Indore
Saraswati River of Indore

Suresh MG, consultant and water recharge expert at Indore Municipal Corporation, says, 

"We have started the work and identified 27 ponds/lakes. These channels would naturally recharge the lake of Indore. But, these channels have been encroached upon… Hence, our efforts are to revive these channels and reverse the rainwater that flows into the drainage, to the ground through a borewell or recharge shaft.”

Indore Lake Channel Work
Ongoing 2267 meter-long Morod Bilawali Pond Channel work

When we met Suresh MG, he was inspecting the 2267 meter-long Morod Channel-1 to recharge the Bilavali Lake. The lake is spread over 387 hectares. Indore city receives 9 MLD water from Bilavali Lake. The administration is trying to increase its capacity by reviving recharge shafts and channels. A recharge shaft is a kind of pit in which water is released into the ground by making a layer of stones. Apart from the 2267-meter channel from Morod to Bilavali, work is also being done on the 2000-meter-long Umrikheda-Kelod Kartal channel.

Suresh MG says the clearing channels in villages around Indore improved water levels significantly. Hence, he wanted to implement the same to tackle the city’s water crisis. This work could be started only because of the will and support of the administration in Indore. He further says,

“We tasted the success of this scheme only last year, the Bilavali pond which used to remain empty even after one month of rain, has now started filling within two or three days of rain."

Bilawali Lake of Indore
Bilawali Lake Indore

Surface water situation in Indore city

The total installed capacity of surface water sources in Indore is 594 MLD. In this, 540 MLD water is obtained from the Narmada river, 45 MLD water from Yashwant Sagar and 9 MLD water from Bilawali pond. But in the current situation, due to the low water level of the Narmada River and the low capacity of other surface water sources (dams/tanks), Indore City gets only 397 MLD water out of 594 MLD.

Important to note, that the Municipal Corporation supplies water to only 46.65% of the city's population. Therefore, the rest are dependent on groundwater-based tube wells. In the report of the Central Ground Water Commission for the year 2023, the groundwater depletion of Indore has been kept in the serious category. 

How are pond channels being made to recharge the ponds?

Morod Channel Work Indore
Morod Bilawali Channel 

Rohit Boyat, Coordinator, Jal Shakti Abhiyan at Indore Municipal Corporation says, 

“We are first finding the old channels and deepening them to remove black soil till the stones become visible. Due to black soil, water is not able to percolate in the ground. Our objective is to recharge the pond, and also increase the groundwater level of the surrounding area.”

Rohit is guiding a Poclain digger, to remove weeds, and black soil at Mayakhedi, on the outskirts of Indore. As per municipal records, Rohit later told us, the hectare-sized land being dug was a lake. However, from a distance, it seems like a barren land ready for some residential complex construction. Local farmers utilize(d) this land for cultivating crops.

Mayakheidi Lake Indore Revival
Mayakhedi Lake Revival Work

Rohit explains "The area of this lake is 0.91 hectare and its catchment area is 12.36 hectare. We are clearing a 300-meter recharge channel here and deepening it."

Apart from Mayakhedi and Bilawali the Municipal Corporation is rejuvenating Chhota and Bada Sirpur, Lasudia Mori, Tigaria Badshah, three ponds of Kanadia, Talawali Chanda, Nipania, Arandia, Khajran, Limbodi, Piplyapala, Annapurna, Hukmakhedi, Ahirkhedi, Nihalpurmundi, Bijasan, Chhota Bangarda, Bhaunrasala,  Pipalyahana, Patharmundla, Bicholi and Naita Mundla ponds.

Channels, challenge, and encroachment

Some of these channels were either occupied by farmers, or houses had been built on them. Rohit Boyat, says that it has always been difficult to remove people from their homes. Inside the city, the channels have encroached significantly, so we have to find other ways to recharge the identified lake. But, we manage.  Using Morod Channel's example, he further says, 

"Most of the land here is agricultural, but we had to face opposition from many people. The municipality has land records, so there was not much problem. But in the areas where permanent colonies have been cut on the pond itself. There is often atmosphere gets tensed"

Recently, the Indore urban administration conducted a survey in which encroachment was found in 16 out of 35 lakes within the limits of Indore city. In some of these, illegal colonies have been built and in some places, the lake's land is being used for farming. Even Sirpur Lake, which has the status of a Ramsar site, is in the grip of encroachment, many people have built houses here illegally.

Who is responsible for encroachment on ponds?

Sirpur Lake Indore Construction work
Ramsar Site Sirpur Wetland, Ongoing Construction Work

Kishore Kodwani, a social activist, working for water conservation in Indore, holds the Municipal Corporation responsible for the encroachment on the lakes. He says, 

"All this is happening with the consent of the Municipal Corporation. At Sirpur Pond the Municipal Corporation itself is ignoring the rules and getting concrete construction done in the name of beautification."

Kishore Kodwani's claims gain further credence from the Municipal Corporation's survey. The survey reveals that the leases have been granted on lake land without administrative approval—a clear violation of protocol. The system’s complicity in the degradation of lakes becomes evident when examining Pipalyahana Lake, near World Cup Square. The High Court building is being constructed just beside the lake, with the permission of NGT. 

Piplyahana Lake
Pipalyahana Lake of Indore where the High court building is being constructed

Pipalyahana Lake was revived through a public-private partnership. However, when we visited the site 5-6 ducks were floating on the surface of an almost empty lake. Untreated sewage water was being released inside the lake contributing to the foul, and half-funny attempt at reviving the lakes of the city.

Way forward 

The Ground Report team conducted a ground survey of many ponds in Indore city. Municipal Corporation needs to work more sincerely for the conservation of these lakes. However, Kishore Kodwani advises for a more radical, and urgent approach.

Interestingly, Indore’s Member of Parliament Shankar Lalwani has approved more than 120 projects in less than a year to install tube walls or borewells in the city’s urban areas. The estimated cost of these projects is almost Rs. 5 crore. This is quite contrary to municipal corporations’ way of managing falling water levels and the city’s water crisis. Furthermore, this seems like a kneejerk reaction from the representative to manage the crisis at hand, without having a clear long-term vision. 

Moreover, IMC officials pointed out the lack of funds to ensure better implementation of their plans on the ground. Rohit said,

“We are working on clearing the channel as part of routine work, through IMC’s machinery… we don’t have separate funds for this project”

IMC has been pushing the citizens to install rainwater harvesting systems in their homes. We have reported on the success and shortcomings of the same as well.

Indore city's current population is around 35 lakhs, potentially reaching 70 lakhs by the year 2050-55.  Considering the dire situation at hand, the solutions can’t be fetching the costliest water from Narmada, and impacting the river ecosystem. Hence, relying on river Narmada’s water alone amid falling groundwater levels may push Indore towards a bleak future.

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