Why to Underground the Canals Of Dehradun
By Ayushi Nagalia
Dehradun, the city of paradise, is undergoing immense changes as a result of it being the capital of Uttarakhand. Dehradun is not known only for it’s ecological richness, but also for a rich culture and heritage that has been struggling to withstand the test of time under the pressure of extensive development, and thus, population boost. It is a common belief that a city’s heritage is defined by the ancient traditions that are passed down generations within. However, heritage is not just about the traditions, but also about the historical, visual and lifestyle signatures of the city. In a city like Dehradun that had been avidly mentioned in the Hindu Purans as well as the Babarnama, having a high heritage value is not a surprise. But with a richness of heritage and culture, comes the question of its compliance with the propensity of change in development projects.
The most popular example of drastic changes in lieu of development in Dehradun is that of the covering of canals. Dehradun was once known for its beautiful canals and unique hydro system. However, with a significant increase in traffic and an increase in demand for wider roads, the Uttarakhand Government was forced to cover up those canals. The result was the wide and ever-developing EC Road, GMS Road, Canal Road and Nehru Colony, amongst others. Ever since, there has been an uproar against the government for covering up the canals which were once the ‘signature’ of Dehradun, but the question here arises is that, is preserving the canal heritage worth it after all?
It is a fact that steady development and rich heritage cannot go hand in hand in a new and growing state like Uttarakhand, where the government has too many things to handle and grow at once. Sure, sustainable development plans show how both heritage and development can do together, but it is not to forget that sustainable development plans have a utopic point of view, which in all practicality is just not possible to achieve. With a firm growth in population, Dehradun is as it is on its journey to become a major smart city, and has within the past 15 years, already lost a lot of it’s ‘paradise’ factor. Most Dehradun residents today, are migrants and not natives and therefore, do not understand the local history and heritage to its core. Dehradun being the educational capital, the student population that has always been vast in the city, does not and will never care about certain heritage sites or historical values of the city as the middle aged and elderly residents do. However, old or young, rich or poor, everyone wants to challenge and see how the government tackles the effervescent problems caused by a growth in commercialization in the city.
When a change is planned, everyone has something pessimistic to say about it, because in all honesty, who likes changes? but dissuading the city managers and benefactors is not the answer to the resident’s inability to think ahead of time. At the time the canal project was undertaken, it didn’t receive a lot of support from the residents, however, a few years hence, the positive results of it is for everyone’s sight. Canal Road is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of Rajpur Road; EC Road and GMS Road are seeing a great growth in commercialization; Nehru Colony is becoming a huge residential community of the city; all because of covering up the canals and creating wider roads.
It is important for people to understand that preserving these canal’s existence is much more important preserving their heritage value. The whole hydro system of the city and the surrounding villages is still dependent on these canals. It is because of the canals built over a century ago by Sir Cautley, that water from mountain stream like Tons, Rispana and Song River irrigates the Karkuli, Amgarh, Rajpur and Mahadev Khala villages. Most of the water that flows through the city, also flows in these canals which have now been undergrounded. Just imagine what would happen to the city’s hydro plans if these canals are once again laid out in open? People would start dumping waste and all sorts of pollutants in those canals, just like they do in the Maldevta Canal, not considering the harm they are causing to their own resources. For a city that has already been struggling with the drying out of crucial rivers that were once an integral part of it’s ecology, it is safe to say that open canals would face the same doom as Rispana and Bindal Rivers. Converting Dehradun’s canals into heritage sites would ultimately do more harm than good and the residents would anyway blame the government for it.
Heritage sites in a few years start to become a neglected and unmonitored site of a city, in the end, encouraging people to forget about them or exploit them. The rock edict of Ashoka in Kalsi stays an ignored site and people keep forgetting the fact that Dehradun was once a part of the Mauryan Empire. People have completely forgotten that in early ‘60s, besides Bombay and Delhi, Dehradun was the only place in India where cabaret shows were held. Every year Jhande ka Mela is commenced in honor of Guru Ram Rai, but most of the locals themselves do not know the reason for its commencement. Heritage sites or not, people will only remember what they want to remember of the history and culture of the city they live in. There is no use of hindering a good going development plan in order to force a heritage people don’t care about. All those who are willing to know about the heritage value of Dehradun, can easily do it by grabbing a fine book or filing RTIs. The Heritage is not being killed, it is just being made available for only who want to know about it.
With a drastic increase in commercialization, people come to Dehradun because of the job prospects, and not only because of it’s ‘paradise’ factor. Most of these people only want to see the city get more commercialized and produce more jobs, and taking away this from them is not what Dehradun was brought to it’s current level. The canals of Dehradun can not be made as beautiful as the Canals of Venice, instead, open canals would constantly pose a threat to the beauty, integrity and development of the city. Even if the canals are attempted to be beatified, the projects might just fail because new techniques of building and renovating these canals fail in comparison to Sir Cautley’s pioneering methods that have gained a place in civil engineering curriculums.
People should understand that there is no two ways to this problem. Either you chose to change develop, or you chose to stick to heritage and completely neglect the benefits that change could get. If the policy makers of the city are planning something, they are doing it keeping in mind certain factors that you are either unaware of or constantly neglect. Therefore, instead of blaming the system for everything, either come up with an ingenious development plan that can both preserve heritage and encourage development, or let the policy makers do their job.
If the question of the canal’s heritage value had raised 20 years back, it would have been logical to support heritage over development, but now that Dehradun has already seen vast development programs, there is no logic in slowing down the development projects in lieu of glorifying something that already has a golden word in the history of Dehradun. I say, if the city’s ancient hydro system is going about smoothly at the cost of people’s unawareness about them, let the hydro system take the priority. There are numerous efficient ways of spreading intelligence of the canal system of Dehradun, and making them a mere heritage site is not one of them.