Role of Dehra’s Canals in Structuring Civilisation
By Priyanjali Bhalla
In a small valley in the Himalayas, a river sprung out from within and as it tumbled along its journey southwards it raised a civilisation. It was the Rispana river. The landscape was beautiful with the backdrop of the mussorie ranges and surroundings of Himalayan forests. It made the land bountiful . It was the supplier of water in the region and to bring its water into more utilisation for irrigation and drinking purposes , a canal was constructed upon it around three hundred years ago. Rispana was a blessing for the people of this region.
Rispana river sprung up from the ground as a spring near the mussorie ridge base. Hereafter it picks on a south-westerly course and flows parallel to the rajpur road and finally drains into the river Song. Dehradun valley has good amount of underground water storage. Therefore rispana remains a perennial river as it is supported by various springs and also fed by seasonal torrents. Years ago Rispana carried a good volume of water .Thus Rani Karnavati and her consort ,Ajbu Kaur the administrators of the ancient capital ,Nawada, carried out the work of construction of a canal system on this river under the name of The Raja of Garhwal to facilitate the flow of its water to farther places for irrigation and drinking purposes. Earlier the main reason for canal construction was to facilitate drinking water . Later it was also used and extended for irrigation purposes . The canal system was made up of wooden gates operated manually and a sluice. The wooden gates would be operated to divert the raised water level into canals. The management of the canal later passed on to the Mahants of Guru Ram Rai Darbar .
Rispana river made its surroundings area rich and fertilised ,firstly by the water it carried and secondly due to the sediment brought down by it which formed a series of fertilised terraces along its path. It was a carrier of clean and mineral mountain water to the residents of this valley . It distributed water over an area 36.02 km. The residents were blessed in every way by the existence of this river . They got pure drinking water, water reached their fields for irrigation ,water was available throughout the year, it made the land fertile and it even facilitated the construction of mills and workshops along its path and it even added to the heritage of this land and made the landscape more beautiful. There were two to three grain mills along its path which ofcourse now lie broken and dilapidated. For about three hundred years it has been a boon to every sole living in this place in some way or the other . But we have failed to realise and preserve it.
That bountiful river which raised and supported a civilisation for so long now lie in a pitiable state. Its banks which used to remain flooded with fresh water now lie almost barren with scant dirty and stinky water. Only in its northern end from where it begins its journey, the fresh fragrance of pure waters and its tinkling sound can be felt enriching the senses. As we trace down its path more than eighty percent of the canal has been covered up to allow the broadening of roads . The once scenic place of Dehradun known for the number of canals which were spread in the entire valley like flower trails in a garden ,reaching every nick and corner of this valley demonstrating an excellent canal system saluting to the marvellous engineering which provided water as well as added on to the beauty of this awe- inspiring valley seemed to have disappeared under the unplanned modernisation of this town. I have lived in this town for about twenty years . There was a time when the fresh water supply in our homes was allowed for twenty four hours. Infact like ten to twelve years ago we didn’t even have a water purifier or aqua guard installed in our kitchen walls. The fresh tap water was used for drinking purposes directly by being stored in a ghada or matka or a simple filter was made use of . Slowly the water supply reduced to two times a day and then to only once a day. The water which now runs in the pipes comes from a storage tank for our area . Some have even started using tube well water. The area beyond Shimla bypass, constituting transport nagar area and Clement town use tube well water. At times during the rainy season the water which gets supplied is so muddy to be used. And during the summer season the water tankers have to be called to fulfill the water demands ! When this valley had such good canal systems then what happened that the systems seemed to have failed on the present day.
The Rispana which used to flow unrestricted distributing its waters to the valley people now lie restrained under piles of cemented structures. The river has been suffocated and choked with garbage and dump. The beautiful scene surrounding Rispana has converted into forsaken slums and smelly areas .The heritage of canals built and maintained by Garhwal kings and the British now lie lost. Even when someone tries to look and recover our past , all they come across is deserted and destroyed state. People saw the benefits and fertile lands of this place and they tried to make it their own neglecting the reasons behind such fertility. In the race of modernisation they approved one construction plan after the other. And in their attempt to establish a cemented infrastructure they ruined the natural base. They failed to realise that all their new structures would only be suitable if they were in accordance to the natural laws of this land. But the realisation is coming quit late. People of thus state are now facing floods ,choked drains, water shortage, weather issues , pollution too among many others. The systems if this land were designed to overcome any such problem. But unmindful and unmonitored construction laid waste of what was once considered as one of the best land in India. Number of people inhabiting the land are increasing, vehicles are increasing ,so are roads and building to accommodate this accession. The growth of roads and buildings are coming up by finishing the existing natural features of this place . Acres of forest land is being chopped down ,excess use of groundwater is causing pressure on underground water table making it suck more pollutant, broad river streams are being thinned down and at places they are made to disappear underground and are thus in turn getting lost with the drains. This is what has become of the glorious past of this valley. The river which played the role of the nurturer is now being treated worst than a slave. People are still busy ignoring this fact that if such stress continues on the natural bodies of this place sooner this heavenly abode will be no better than a mechanical city full of pollutants and monotonous city life. The peace which this land seems to offer to its visitors will be a topic of the past.
Recently the Uttarakhand high court gave the title of Living Entities to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers stating that they should treated as living things so that the faith of the society could be protected. Not just in paper but in reality too these rivers need to be conserved . They are our lifeline . We need to respect and preserve them . Our ancestors were not silly when they worshipped natural forces . They realised the importance of various natural forces in our lives. What we are doing now a days is neglecting the base of human existence and inviting our own downfall. The land that has the maximum number of water bodies is always fertile and good for living . India is very fortunate in this case and so is our small doon valley which is drained by a number of numbers especially Rispana and Bindal – the two main lifelines of this valley. There is still time when these rivers upon which our civilisation has existed since centuries can be preserved . Lets take a step to revive and preserve our past lest it disappears before our eyes and we become responsible for our own destruction.