By Nitin Chandola
Canals of Dehradun are an integral part of each Doonite’s life, these are the basic source of our daily water convention. Dehradun’s
canals are not only an architectural marvel but also an engineered megastructure of the pre-independence era. Most residents of Dehradun are unaware of these canals, as most of the canals are now covered due to an unsustainable approach of our past and present governments. People of the late nineties are living spectators of the marvelous East Canals and West Canals’ utility. Most of the canals were constructed away from the city to provide an enhanced irrigation system to Dehra’s agricultural lands. The known Basmati rice of Dehradun came to existence because of these marvels of Engineering. With time, we have lost all our agricultural assets, as farmers were at an advantage in selling their land to Mafias for a handful of money. The long stretches of Sugarcane fields were altered to a concrete ruin full of dust and monotonous architecture of Squares and Rectangles. These canals are still present in the rural areas of Thano, Bhogpur and Maldevta. Most of them are struggling to survive in open surroundings. The explosion of population in the city is in the irregulated mode has created a burden on the city’s water supplies. Much of the area in the city is dependent on water tanks, which costs a ransom on daily basis. Summers in the main city of Dehradun experiences draught like situations as the water supply head decreases hence, the water mafias provide the city with tankers.
Dehradun was not in this crisis before, there was a time when the canals were an integral part of each of us. In late 1758, Rani Karunawati and Raja Ajab Kunwar developed the pathway to develop the Uttarakhand’s first ever irrigation system in form of Rajpur Canal. The canal was to be stretched from Rispana Ro River to that time capital of Dehradun, Nawada. The region was full of agricultural land rich in minerals due to alluvial soil and still exists till the stretch of Dudhli in Doiwala region. The Rajpur canal later became an inspiration to Guru Ram Rai of Dhamawala, who faced the scarcity of water in his Dera in late eighteenth century. Hence, the Jakhan Canal system was formed from the origin of Rispana Ro to Bhogpur. The lake in the Jhanda Durbar still receives water from the Rajpur Canal and the Dharampur region was also provided with warer from the Rajpur Canal System. Though the canal was later modified by British engineer and surveyor, Cautley, the credits of pre-engineered route of Rajpur Canal belongs to officials of Ram Rai. In gazetteer of Walton, the credits of proving the water to Dehradun city is given to “Sirmor Battalion” for its designing and engineering.
At present both Jakhan and Rajpur canal are on the verge of extinction, as the efforts of the government to underground these lifelines of Doon for expansion of roads are proving moot. There is a severe need to judge our living standards, as these heritages will not last long. The era of 1800s was the golden era for exploration in Dehradun, as the region was new to British armies and colonials. Hence, a genius like Pandit Nain Singh Rawat got opportunities in The Survey of India (Now at Old Survey Road) to learn the engineering and Exploration technique. Under the same approach, natives of Dehra region learned the engineering of creating networks of canal using Cautley’s pioneered engineering methods. Many of the civil engineering books are still dependent on Cautley’s civil engineering methods. Last year, in 2017, when Uttarakhand’s irrigation department took step to revive and renovate the Jakhan canal and Rajpur canal using Concrete and cement, a major failure occurred in their approach, as the impact of the Water Heads on the walls of the canal was so forceful that it wore out seven centimeters of cement coat. Hence, Cautley’s approach to use sandstone available nearby in the Himalayas was not only the masterstroke in Vernacular architecture but also shows marvel of our city’s canal system.
Khalanga canal system is also among the six canals that existed in Dehradun district. The name given to this canal is due to the mountain of Khalanga (where the famous war between Gurkhas and British in late nineteenth century was fought). This canal is now underground due to the need for road expansion. This canal is the youngest canal system derived from the Song river which originates from the Tehri district of Uttarakhand. Hence, the origin of Khalanga canals is considered as highest among all the canal system in Dehradun. According to Walton’s gazetteer, the Khalanga canal system was used to irrigate the area near to the Nag Siddha and song river.
Dehra was the city of canals as the geographic conditions of this place were not suitable to harness a civilization, and it was the human tendency to innovate and create the best of its intelligence that caused this city to sustain a prosperous life. These canals still flow under our footpath in disguise. Those who are new to this city have no idea of the hardware that has been imparted to build the city’s water supply system, the unsustainable use of water is the basic issue persisting here. The residents use external pumps to exhaust the underwater table of Dehra. With unsustainable approach of Dehradun’s modern civilization, there is a surety of exhausting natural water resources. There are possible solutions to this problem like, water harvesting and water table rechargers, but the unhygienic yet longstanding belief of dumping solid waste in canals and rivers is not an easy task to deal with.
The people in the city (mostly immigrants) are unaware about the geographical constraints of Dehradun city. The possibility of a city suffering with scarcity of water not only in summers but also during winters are not too far. If government takes steps to harness more water resources and conserving the heritage with sustainable approach, then only will Dehra able to get back to its golden ages where these architectural marvels were respected by the locals and residents.