Bhuj citizens seek restoration of Hamirsar and other water bodies

Given Hamirsar's significance, the Jal Shakti Ministry had designated it as one of India's 75 water heritage monuments
17 May 2023
0 mins read
Need to resuscitate the traditional water system and expand its catchment (Image: Raman Patel, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)
Need to resuscitate the traditional water system and expand its catchment (Image: Raman Patel, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

Hamirsar is a 450-year-old artificial lake that bears the name of Rao Hamir, the founder of Bhuj and Rao Khengarji I's father, who founded the Kutchi Jadeja dynasty. In order to meet the needs of Bhuj, which was also designated as the capital in 1549, this area in the salinized and arid Kutch was developed over a number of decades, and canals and tunnels were built to combine water from three river systems and recharge the aquifers. Later, the Mistris of Kutch, a local community of masons, built the embankment of Hamrisar and made additional improvements.

An excellent place situated in the centre of Bhuj, the headquarters of Kutch district, the eastern side of the lake is close to other places of interest such as the Aina Mahal and Praga Mahal, the Kutch Museum, the Ramkund Stepwell and Ram Dhun Temple, the Swaminarayan Temple and the Alfred High School, the Sharad Baug palace, and the road to the royal chhatardis. The lake has a beautiful mid-lake garden which is maintained as a beautiful garden.

The lake was created by combining the two river systems of the area with a number of dams and canals over time. The main components of the Hamirsar lake system are 72 water bodies ranging in size, three main feeder canals that increase the original catchment, hundreds of tiny streams, a network of natural and man-made waste systems, and flood control gates.

There are five notable urban receiver lakes (Hamirsar, Chattedi, Dhobhi, Pragsar, and Dehsalsar) and five rural or semi-urban feeder bodies (Dhunaraja reservoir, Hamadrai reservoir, Mundra Road reservoir, Mochirai Tank, and the Bhuj Irrigation reservoir) out of the total of 72 water bodies. The receiver lakes' sandstone aquifers and the more than 329 wells that take water from them are also regarded as being a part of the system. 

A unique cretaceous sandstone band in the region's geology served as a reliable source of groundwater for the developing town and the nearby agricultural region. Even during times of drought, the aquifer was kept healthy and regularly recharged over the course of more than 450 years of careful watershed management and development.

The Hamirsar system is extremely significant on both a cultural and economic level. During the winter, migratory birds such as pelicans, flamingos, widgeons, mallards, and pintail ducks regularly congregate around the main lakes. The Hamirsar also brings residents of the city to its shores for lakeside walks, prayers, and cultural and religious events, as well as locals and tourists during the yearly Rann Utsav Carnival.

The City Mayor leads a celebration and prayer at the lake's outflow point on the day of the monsoon lake overflow and distributes "Meghladu" (sweets) to the lake's visitors in honour of the occasion. A public holiday is declared on that day in accordance with the Negotiable Instruments Act of 1881 by the Kachchh Collector.  This demonstrates the region's longstanding reverence for and importance of rain in both community life and public governance. Since the Declaration of Independence, the lake has flooded 26 times.

On the eve of India's 75th anniversary of independence, the Jal Shakti Ministry designated 75 places as being part of India's water legacy, including Hamirsar.

Images of the Hamisar system being destroyed that were taken by concerned citizens and displayed on satellite imagery. (Image: Citizen's group)


Spread over an area of 28 acres, the lake had lost much of its catchment and recharge potential much before the earthquake of 2001 in Kutch. However, following the earthquake, an awareness campaign encouraged residents, the municipality, and the local press to make the most basic repairs necessary to fill the lake in 2003. This was done in an effort to resuscitate the traditional water system and expand its catchment to fulfil the household water demands of the people of Bhuj.

The local administration and populace, however, have forgotten the significance of the aquifer beneath their feet and the lake system that recharges it as a result of the advent of deep-well technology and a piped water system to Bhuj. The system has deteriorated to the point where immediate action is necessary to save the city's unique ecosystems, preserve its cultural landmarks, and restore adequate supplies of local, potable water. 

The city of Bhuj was originally built on its ability to supply its own water needs, but as it has grown, it has become increasingly dependent on water pumped from other parts of Gujarat as a result of a lack of attention paid to ecosystem conservation and system maintenance.

Elderly residents of Bhuj remember that the city once had over 80 lakes and water reservoirs, and that its environs were connected to its sizable catchment area. The expansion of the city, especially after the devastating earthquake of 2001, led to the development of four relocation sites, the establishment of numerous institutions such as Kutch University, the disruption of water channels, and the encroachment by people onto these water channels. One such example is the Police Parade Ground, which was created by filling the former Pragsar lake.

There are now only 38 water reservoirs that can be seen across the city. On the 7/12 records, 13 of these are listed as lakes, while the remaining ones are listed as "Shree Sharkar" (Government land).

In a recent development, in order to "notify, protect, restore, and rejuvenate" the lakes of the historic Bhuj city, a number of environmental activists, social workers, and academics, the majority of whom are from Gujarat's arid Kutch district, have urged the Gujarat authorities to act immediately. They have threatened legal action if the authorities fail to do so.

The letter suggested that both local and state officials should be held "accountable" for the environmental harm done to Bhuj due to the city's water tables being sharply depleted by more than 12 metres in a decade. The letter also suggested that the authorities should keep in mind that the Kutch district receives the least amount of rainfall in all of Gujarat, which has increased stress on groundwater and caused salinity intrusion, as well as having an adverse effect on the health of the local population.

The creation of numerous water bodies and rivers, as well as their connection to arterial reservoirs and canals, allowed Bhuj to become a "desert oasis, grow to a population of over 1.5 lakh, and serve as the economic hub of a region of cattle rearers and agriculturalists," the letter claimed, citing photographs scanned with satellite maps.

Despite several rulings from the Supreme Court and Gujarat High Court to safeguard the lakes, as well as National Green Tribunal and government resolutions (GRs), the majority of the above-mentioned lakes are in bad condition and have issues with encroachment, sewage outflow, and dumping rubbish and debris.

According to the letter, despite significant legal rulings and GRs, both notified and unnotified lakes face numerous environmental and existential threats and require urgent action to be protected, restored, and rejuvenated for the survival of current and future generations as well as the city's rich biodiversity. The deteriorated lake habitat raise concerns about the sustainability of biodiversity in this area.

In particular, unnotified lakes have been particularly vulnerable to encroachment by humans, and the majority of them have already experienced significant shrinkage, such as Dhaberari Lake on Khawda Road, with other lakes, like Jeevanrai Talav in Vijaynagar, altogether disappearing. Flooding occurs in places around lakes like Panjrapol lake on Railway Station road during the rainy season due to water influx and outflow.

According to the letter, several locations are extremely dirty and overflowing with sewage, such as Rato Talav near Ashapura Nagar on Airport Road. The sewage flow in the lakes must be stopped, all "dumped garbage" from the lakes must be removed immediately, the water channels must be "cleared immediately to ensure water flow in the lakes," and there must be a "survey of all non-notified the lakes" with the demarcation and notification in government land records.

In order to fulfil the above agenda in a proactive, transparent, and accountable manner, the letter requested the appointment of an expert committee "empowered with an effective, functional, well qualified quasi-governmental/ semi-statutory body/ task force that includes subject experts such as ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, botanists, zoologists, wetland specialists, architects, etc.

"Significant developments have taken place after our letter. The district collector has issued an order to the land and revenue department to immediately survey and notify all the non-notified lakes in Bhuj and it's periphery. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board have issued notices to the concerned authorities to take actions on sewage, municipal solid waste and construction waste dumping. As a citizen group, we have been constantly monitoring and doing follow-up with the concerned authorities," says Aseem Mishra, Director, Homes in the City and a part of the citizens group.

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