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Stepwells of Samasgarh lacks apathy amidst state’s Jal Ganga Samvardhan Abhiyan

'Jal Ganga Samwardhan Abhiyan' has been started by the Madhya Pradesh government to repair the water bodies. But the ancient stepwells located in Samasgarh a short distance from the capital Bhopal are still in bad condition.

By Shishir Agrawal
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jal ganga samvardhan abhiyan

One of the Stepwells in Samasgarh Village, Bhopal

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हिंदी में पढ़ें | The Madhya Pradesh government is actively campaigning for the 'Jal Ganga Samvardhan Abhiyan.' This campaign, which began on June 5 and will continue until June 16, aims to repair the state's water bodies before the monsoon. Launching the campaign at the Betwa River in Jhiri Behera, Raisen district, Chief Minister Mohan Yadav stated, 

"Under this campaign, 905 projects will be completed, including the repair of wells, stepwells, ponds, and rivers."

During his visit to Jabalpur, the Chief Minister congratulated Public Works Minister Rakesh Singh for repairing two step-wells in the area. 

However, just 22 kilometres from Bhopal, in Samsgarh, there is no one to care for the ancient stepwells, which have been in dilapidated condition for the past few years.

Out of 52 step-wells, only 4 step-wells exist

Prakash Malviya (54), a resident of Samsgarh, shares that there used to be 52 step-wells in his village. However, these ancient stepwells were closed to expand agricultural land. Prakash adds,

"In the past few years, people from Bhopal have started buying land here. They closed the stepwells for farming."

stepwell ganga jal samvardhan abhiyan
The condition of the step-wells of Samasgarh can be understood by looking at the condition of the boards installed here.

The remaining step-wells are also in a dilapidated state. Upon entering the village, a board from the Archaeological Department greets us. Inside, the broken remnants of the ancient Shiva temple are scattered everywhere. Two stepwells are located here, but they are nearly defunct. Another farmer from the area says,

"Due to the lack of maintenance, the stones from the stepwells have been stolen, causing them to deteriorate and fill with soil."

Stepwells in bhopal
Local people say that the stepwells have become more dilapidated due to the stones being stolen.

Does the Administration Know How to Restore Stepwells?

Under the 'Jal Ganga Samvardhan Abhiyan,' the administration and public collaboration are being utilized to repair water structures. However, it is important to understand that the restoration of stepwells is different from the restoration of ponds, shares Dr. Pradeep Nandi, a former member of the MP Wetland Authority. "Unlike ponds, stepwells are rich in architectural design. Their structural architecture helps in recharging water. This means that while the restoration of ponds can be done with public cooperation, the same is not true for stepwells," he explains.

Dr Nandi points out that the absence of reservoir specialists in local bodies results in the need to repair most reservoirs annually. An official from the Bhopal Municipal Corporation under conditions of anonymity shared that the corporation lacks technical knowledge regarding the different restoration methods for ponds and stepwells.

rural stepwell
The water in the stepwell located in Ajay's farm does not dry up even during summer.

Benefits of Stepwells for Farmers

Ajay Malviya, a 24-year-old farmer from Samsgarh, shows us the stepwell located in his field. He explains that his father had it restored about 16 years ago. Even during the summer, this stepwell remains filled with water.

"Sixteen years ago, we started digging for water and found the remnants of this stepwell. We decided to restore it properly, and it continues to serve us well,"Malviya says.

In Samsgarh, everyone depends on groundwater for agriculture, but water is found only after digging 700 feet. There is also an economic aspect to this. Ajay says that digging a borewell costs up to 2 lac rupees. Since most farmers are smallholders, they take loans for borewell drilling, which adds additional pressure on them. Malviya uses stepwell water for irrigation and his livestock but relies on groundwater for drinking. However, because of the stepwell, his borewell does not dry up in summer like the others in the village.

stepwells bhopal
Ajay uses the water from the stepwell for irrigation and animals.

Prakash Malviya highlights the economic situation of the rural area. He says that not every farmer in the village can afford to repair a stepwell.

“It costs around 200,000 to 300,000 rupees to restore one stepwell. The government should think about how to preserve them," Malviya adds.

Environmental activist Rashid Noor Khan from Bhopal emphasizes that the government should make genuine efforts to save these step-wells rather than focusing on their mere beautification. Commenting on the 'Jal Ganga Samvardhan Abhiyan,' he says,

"This campaign appears more like a media event. It would have been better to strictly enforce existing schemes rather than spending on new ones. These stepwells have historical significance, but neither the Archaeological Department nor the Water Resources Department pays attention to them."

Ajay Malviya's example clearly demonstrates that preserving step wells in Samsgarh can provide direct economic benefits to the local people. This would not only protect historical structures but also increase groundwater levels. However, amidst all the event management and publicity, the 'Jal Ganga Samvardhan Abhiyan' has yet to make an impact in Samsagarh.

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