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Concerned citizens' letter: Urgently restore, protect historic lakes of water stressed Bhuj

In a letter to the chief officer, Bhuj municipality, with copy to Bhuj municipality president, Bhuj Area Development Authority chairman, senior officials of the Union Jal Shakti and Environment and Forests Ministries, Gujarat chief secretary, as senior environment and forests and urban development officials of the Gujarat government, as many as 27 concerned citizens of Kutch district have insisted that they must urgently notify, protect, restore and rejuvenate all the lakes of Bhuj city region.
Threatening legal action in case this is not done, the letter said, the officials are accountable for the environmental damages caused by the “deliberate ongoing violations of the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016 and the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016”, as also “non-compliance” of several Gujarat High Court, Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal orders. (More images at the end of the letter)
The letter:
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Kachchh, a semi-arid district in western Gujarat, is a highly water-distressed area. As per the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) report published in 2022 (source: Divya Bhaskar, Bhuj edition, 23rd December 2022), groundwater has depleted by 12.43 meters between 2011 and 2020. The report further states that Kutch is one of three districts after Panchmahal and Sabarkantha in Gujarat where groundwater is depleting at the rate of over one meter annually due to various reasons such as the establishment of industrial setups, development by ignoring water reservoirs, and water channels, etc.
Kachchh district receives the least rainfall in the entire Gujarat. Because of erratic rainfall and extraction, the groundwater level is declining. Low rainfall, skewed rainfall ratio, and over-exploitation of groundwater have aggravated the salinity ingression. This has indirect impacts on the health of the people living in this region.
Bhuj City, the capital of the Kachchh district, has a rich history deeply intertwined with—and dependent upon—water. The largest and most successful city in an arid region such as Kachchh, Bhuj owes much to its strategic water reserves, which have allowed the city to thrive and grow for more than 500 years despite minimal rainfall and frequent droughts. The city’s lake system – an engineering feat that connects naturally occurring water bodies and rivers to historic arterial reservoirs and canals – has enabled this desert oasis to grow to a population of over 1.5 lakhs and serve as the economic hub of a region of cattle rearers and agriculturalists (ACT, 2018).
As you may be aware, Bhuj was historically ruled by Jadeja Rajputs, who established the city in the 16th century. The location was strategic for two reasons: (1) the hill on which Bhujio Fort was built, was extremely defensible, and (2) the area’s geology includes a cretaceous sandstone belt -- one of the only in Kachchh --that provided a consistent source of groundwater for the young city and surrounding agricultural area. The combination of the region’s two river systems with a series of dams and canals constructed over time, to feed the artificial lake that eventually earned the name ‘Hamirsar.’ Over 450 years of careful catchment management and development kept the aquifer healthy and continuously recharged, even during the periods of drought.
Hamirsar Lake System primarily includes 72 water bodies of various sizes, three primary feeder canals that expand the original catchment; hundreds of small streams, and a series of natural and artificial waste channels and flood control gates. Out of the 72 water bodies, there are five prominent 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). The sandstone aquifers, on which the receiver lakes are situated, as well as more than 329 wells that draw water from the aquifer, are also considered part of the system.
The cultural and economic importance of the Hamirsar system is immense. The primary lakes draw a regular crowd of migratory birds, including pelicans, flamingos, widgeons, mallards, and pintail ducks during the winter season. The Hamirsar also attracts local and international visitors during the annual Rann Utsav Carnival, and draws city residents to its shores for lakeside walks, prayers, and cultural and religious festivals.
The day the lake overflows during monsoon, there is a celebration and prayer at the outflow site by the City Mayor who distributes “Meghladu” (sweets) among citizens present at the lake to celebrate the event. The Kachchh Collector declares a public holiday on that day under the Negotiable Instrument Act of 1881. This shows the traditional importance and respect of rain in the community and public administration in this region. The lake has overflowed 26 times since the Independence.
Considering the importance of Hamirsar, the Jal Shakti Ministry has declared it as one of the water heritage sites among 75 sites in India on the eve of 75 years of Independence.
However, with the introduction of deep-well technology and piped water system to Bhuj, the local government and population have, in recent years, forgotten about the importance of the aquifer beneath their feet, and the lake system that recharges it. The system has fallen into disrepair that warrants rapid interventions to protect the fragile ecosystems, conserve the cultural monuments, and restore healthy levels of local, clean, and potable water for the city’s survival.
The city of Bhuj was once founded on water self-sufficiency, but due to lack of attention paid to ecosystem conservation and system maintenance, now relies heavily on water pumped from other areas of Gujarat, and has not made the necessary investments to protect, maintain and improve its own water resources as it grows.
As per memories shared by elderly persons in Bhuj, there were over 80 water reservoirs/ lakes in the city, and its surroundings were connected with its vast catchment area. The development, especially after the devastating 2001 earthquake when the city was expanded to decongest the walled city and four relocation sites were developed, various institutions such as Kutch University were built, the water channels were disturbed and many (fully/partially) filled with debris, and people started residing over these water channels.
The Police Parade Ground is one such example which is developed by filling the historic Pragsar lake. Presently, only 38 water reservoirs are visible in the city. Of these, 13 are registered as a lake on the 7/12 records, whereas the rest is shown as “Shree Sharkar” (Government land). The 7/12 records of these lakes are annexed with this letter. The list of notified and non-notified lakes is given in Table 1.
Most of the lakes listed in Table 1 are in poor condition facing problems of encroachment, sewage outflow, and dumping garbage and debris, despite multiple orders by the Honorable Supreme Court of India and the Honorable Gujarat High Court to protect the lakes, as well as National Green Tribunal and Government Resolutions. A few important orders are listed below for your kind reference:
Hon’ble Gujarat High Court Order dated 2 August 2002 in SCA No. 10621 of 2000 (Shailesh Shah V/s State of Gujarat). The Order clearly states:
"...It was then stated in paragraph 3 that, in deference to the suggestion made by this Court, the State Government will notify in the Gazette the water bodies and will ensure that no lands forming part of the water bodies be alienated or transferred by the various Area Development Authorities or the Local Authorities and will oversee that the water bodies are maintained and preserved as water bodies…….The Local Bodies and Area Development Authorities will be requested and instructed to see that desiltation may be undertaken in a phased and gradual manner and encroachment is removed also in a phased manner. Care will be taken that water bodies are not converted to any other use in the town planning schemes / development plans that may be made hereafter and the Local Authorities and the Area development Authorities will be instructed to ensure that no debris of buildings is dumped by any person or institution in the existing water bodies. The General Development Control Regulations which are now framed take care as regards the distance to be maintained between the development zone and the water bodies, which was minimum of nine meters, as stated in that affidavit. The Regulations also provide for percolating well to be provided if the area of building exceeds 1500 sq. mtrs. and upto 4000 sq. mtrs. The State Government in that affidavit assured this Court that proper monitoring would be undertaken to oversee the preservation and maintenance of water bodies (p. 9 of 33).
[…]
To sum up, we issue the following directions :-
[A] The State Government will notify all the lakes and ponds as may have been shown in the areas covered by the Town Planning Schemes and the Development Plans, as also those in the areas not so covered throughout the State, in short, all the water bodies in the territory of the State that vest in the State and / or the Area Development Authorities or the local bodies including Panchayats, in the official gazette within three months from the date of this order.
[B] The State Government and all Area Development Authorities and local Bodies will protect, maintain and preserve all the water bodies in the State which are identified as per the development plans, town planning schemes and the government records and which will be notified in the official gazette, as water bodies and they will not be alienated or transferred or put to any use other than as water bodies.
[C] The respondents authorities should take steps to get the standards of quality of water of the lakes and ponds prescribed by the concerned authority under the law, and devise mechanism for periodic monitoring of the quality of water in these lakes and ponds.
[D] The State Government, the Area Development Authorities and the Local Authorities should take urgent measures to rejuvenate the water bodies which are to be notified in the gazette by undertaking a declared phased programme of desiltation and make adequate provisions for recharging them by appropriate storm water drains and other feasible means and to take measures against pollution of such water bodies.
[E] The State Government shall expeditiously take steps to constitute Water Resources Council as contemplated in the Draft Water Policy of the State, headed by the Hon'ble the Chief Minister with other Ministers, including the Ministers in charge of Environment and Urban Development Departments to oversee the programme for protection, preservation and improvement of the water bodies. The State Government will also constitute the Water Resources Committee headed by the Chief Secretary which may include the Secretaries of Environment, Urban Development and Agriculture Departments, for monitoring the implementation of the programme in a time-bound manner with periodic review of its success. This Committee shall place the particulars of the targets achieved and the causes of non-fulfilment of the targets periodically before the Water Resources Council, for its consideration.
[F] The State Government, the Area Development Authorities and the local bodies are directed to prepare an authenticated record in form of videography, photography and panchnamas of the existing encroachments and take urgent steps to remove them in accordance with law and the rehabilitation policies of the Government. Responsibilities of the officers / staff concerned should be fixed in respect of non-removal of encroachments and fresh encroachments. The Water Resources Committee will closely monitor the removal of encroachments by the concerned authorities, and, the Area Development Authorities and the local bodies shall furnish, quarterly, particulars of such encroachments and their removal to the Water Resources Committee.
[G] The question of determining the peripheral area surrounding a lake or pond on which construction may be prohibited will be taken up by the concerned authorities for consideration in the context of the development of individual lakes and ponds and the authorities will take decisions thereon having regard to the relevant factors which may have a bearing on the protection, preservation and improvement of lakes, ponds and other water bodies, and once the peripheral area, around a lake or pond, in which there will be no construction allowed is determined, the same shall be notified. All the applications for building permissions which may be pending, may accordingly be decided as per the regulations and keeping in view the requirement of individual water bodies.”

Hon’ble Supreme Court Order dated 22 February 2017 in Writ Petition (C) No. 375 of 2012, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and another Vs Union of India and others) of the Supreme Court of India. The Order clearly states:
“Given the responsibility vested in Municipalities under Article 243W of the Constitution, as also, in item 6 of the 12th Schedule, wherein the aforesaid obligation, pointedly extends to “public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management”, we are of the view, that the onus to operate the existing common effluent treatment plants, rests on municipalities (and/or local bodies). Given the aforesaid responsibility, the concerned municipalities (and/or local bodies), cannot be permitted to shy away, from discharging this onerous duty……. (p. 5)
[…]
We are of the view, that in the manner suggested above, the malady of sewer treatment, should also be dealt with simultaneously. We therefore hereby direct, that 'sewage treatment plants' shall also be set up and made functional, within the time lines and the format, expressed hereinabove. (p. 7)
...The Secretary of the Department of Environment, of the concerned State Government (and the concerned Union Territory), shall be answerable in case of default. The concerned Secretaries to the Government shall be responsible for monitoring the progress and issuing necessary directions to the concerned Pollution Control Board, as may be required, for the implementation of the above directions. They shall be also responsible for collecting and maintaining records of data, in respect of the directions contained in this order……….(p. 7)
...The concerned Pollution Control Board is also hereby directed, to initiate such civil or criminal action, as may be permissible in law, against all or any of the defaulters. (p. 8)."

Hon’ble Gujarat High Court Order dated 17 February 2022 in R/WRIT PETITION (PIL) No. 144 of 2021 (Paryavaran Mitra Vs. State of Gujarat) Order 17 February 2022 refers to the Government of Gujarat Resolution dated 27 August 2001, instructs to all officers of the Revenue Department, District Collectors/District Development Officers which are extracted herein below:
“(1) Carry out survey of ponds, lakes, small ponds, water bodies within each village, Taluka and district under their respective control, and which are almost in dead condition and are almost in scrap condition. Survey report reflecting village wise, Taluka wise, district wise information about the same be sent to Section Officer, C-Branch, Revenue Department, Sardar Bhavan, Block No. 11/5th floor, Gandhinagar, within 30 days.
(2) Aforementioned lakes, ponds, small ponds, water bodies or such sort are not to be disposed of for any other purpose other than development neither any proposal for the disposal be sent to the government.
(3) Continuous vigilance is to be observed that on the aforementioned type of lands, there are no encroachment and if any such encroachment is found then immediate proceeding to be undertaken to remove the encroachment, as per law.
(4) Proper steps be taken for development of them as lakes, ponds, small ponds, water bodies.
(5) As the matter is of the State Interest, it will be personal responsibility of all District Collectors/District Development Officers to strictly follow these instructions and they are supposed to. issue proper instruction regarding this to their subordinate offices.
(6) Instruction is issued to all Collectors/District Development Officers for having immediate planning about these water bodies getting filled at the maximum capacity during the current rainy season.
(7) These instructions are to be followed on a permanent basis.”

The order concludes:
“We do hope and trust that the State and its instrumentalities would not only implement the Government Resolution dated 27.8.2001 (Annexure-D) in its true letter and spirit but would also take all steps as expected of a prudent welfare State to implement the directions which are already issued in Shailesh R. Shah referred to herein supra.”
The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016 clearly states:
“Duties of the waste generator:
Every waste generator shall keep the construction and demolition waste within the premise or get the waste deposited at collection centre so made by the local body or handover it to the authorised processing facilities of construction and demolition waste; and ensure that there is no littering or deposition of construction and demolition waste so as to prevent obstruction to the traffic or the public or drains.
[…]
Duties of local authorities - The local authority shall,
(1) issue detailed directions with regard to proper management of construction and demolition waste within its jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of these rules and the local authority shall seek detailed plan or undertaking as applicable, from generator of construction and demolition waste;
[…]
shall make arrangements and place appropriate containers for collection of waste and shall remove at regular intervals or when they are filled, either through own resources or by appointing private operators;
shall get the collected waste transported to appropriate sites for processing and disposal either through own resources or by appointing private operators;
[…]
shall make provision for giving incentives for use of material made out of construction and demolition waste in the construction activity including in non-structural concrete, paving blocks, lower layers of road pavements, colony and rural roads.
Duties of State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee -
State Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee shall monitor the implementation of these rules by the concerned local bodies and the competent authorities and the annual report shall be sent to the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Government or Union Territory or any other State level nodal agency identified by the State Government or Union Territory administration for generating State level comprehensive data.
[…]
Duties of State Government or Union Territory Administration –
The concerned department in the State Government dealing with land shall be responsible for providing suitable sites for setting up of the storage, processing and recycling facilities for construction and demolition waste.
The Town and Country planning Department shall incorporate the site in the approved land use plan so that there is no disturbance to the processing facility on a long term basis.
(4) Procurement of materials made from construction and demolition waste shall be made mandatory to a certain percentage (say 10-20%) in municipal and Government contracts subject to strict quality control.
 Duties of the Central Pollution Control Board -
The Central Pollution Control Board shall,- (a) prepare operational guidelines related to environmental management of construction and demolition waste management; (b) analyze and collate the data received from the State Pollution Control Boards or Pollution Control Committee to review these rules from time to time; (c) coordinate with all the State Pollution Control Board and Pollution Control Committees for any matter related to development of environmental standards;
[…]
Duties of the Central Government -
The Ministry of Urban Development, and the Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Panchayat Raj, shall be responsible for facilitating local bodies in compliance of these rules.”
National Green Tribunal Order dated 23 February 2023 in the Application No. 606/2018 clearly states:
“We hope in the light of interaction with the Chief Secretary, the State of Gujarat will take further measures in the matter by innovative approach and stringent monitoring, ensuring that 255 lakh MT of legacy waste as well as 1452 TPD of unprocessed waste and 1005 MLD liquid waste generation and treatment are bridged at the earliest, shortening the proposed timelines, adopting alternative/interim measures to the extent and wherever found viable. Restoration plans need to be executed at the earliest simultaneously in all districts/ cities/ towns/ villages in a time bound manner without further delay with well laid monitoring mechanism at State and District level. District Magistrates must take ownership for monitoring of sewage and solid waste management and regularly providing report to Chief Secretary on monthly basis and overall compliance be ensured by Chief Secretary for which regular meetings be conducted.
[…]
The Chief Secretary, Gujarat fairly accepts that there is gap of about 1005 MLD in sewage generation and treatment and legacy waste of 255 Lakh MT as well as 1452 TPD of unprocessed waste. In normal circumstances, the State would be liable to pay compensation of about Rs. 2100 crore at the scale of compensation fixed in other States. However, it is stated that amount of Rs. 2100 crores will be credited to a separate ring-fenced account within a month for the purpose to utilize for sewage and solid waste management under the supervision of Chief Secretary.
[…]
In view of above, we sum up directions as under:
i. Amount of Rs. 2100 crores be credited to a separate ring-fenced account within a month for utilizing for sewage and solid waste management under the supervision of Chief Secretary (paras 26 & 65).
ii. The State may work out strategy to utilise rejects (inerts, RDF, etc.) arising out of biomining of legacy waste for proper channelization within one month (para 33).
iii. Community compost pits (15725) be properly maintained, ensuring that compost produced is fully utilized (para 31).”
Despite crucial landmark judgments of the Honorable Supreme Court, the Honorable Gujarat High Court, the National Green Tribunal, and Government resolutions, both notified and non-notified lakes face several environmental and existential threats and need urgent actions to protect, restore and rejuvenate them for the survival of present and future generations, and rich biodiversity in the city.
Some of the important issues with the notified lakes:
  • Non-compliance with environmental norms such as the discharge of sewage in Desalsar lake.
  • Lakes are unable to receive rainwater as water channels are obstructed through encroachments and filled with garbage.
  • Apart from groundwater recharge, the survival of biodiversity in this area is a question due to the degraded lake ecosystems.
  • Dumping of debris and construction waste in the surroundings as well as in the lakes.
Some of the important issues with non-notified lakes:
  • Easily encroached by people and most of them have already shrunken drastically such as Dhaberari lake on Khawda Road. Even, some lakes like Jeevanrai talav in Vijaynagar has disappeared completely.
  • Water inflow and outflow creates flooding during the rainy season in surrounding areas of the lakes such as Panjrapol lake on Railway Station Road.
  • Highly polluted and filled with sewage like Rato talav near Ashapura Nagar, Airport Road.
  • Dumping of debris and construction waste in the surroundings as well as in the lakes.
Imperative actions required for:
Lakes:
  • The water channels to be cleared immediately to ensure water flow in the lakes. Removal of all dumped garbage from the lakes.
  • Stop sewage flow in the lakes by appropriate actions such as connecting houses nearby with the sewerage lines and / or installation of decentralized sewage treatment systems.
  • Survey all non-notified the lakes, demarcate and notify them / include them on the 7/12 land records.
  • Immediately Implement the Orders of Hon’ble Gujarat High Court Order dated 2 August 2002 in SCA No. 10621 of 2000 (Shailesh Shah V/s State of Gujarat), Hon’ble Gujarat High Court Order dated 17 February 2022 in R/Writ Petition (PIL) No. 144 of 2021 (Paryavaran Mitra vs State Of Gujarat), Hon’ble Supreme Court Order dated 22.02.2017, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), Hon’ble National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated 22.02.2021 in Original Application No. 593 of 2017 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), and Hon’ble National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, 23 February 2023 in the Original Application No. 606 of 2018 in letter and spirit.
  • Appoint an expert committee empowered with an effective, functional, well qualified quasi-governmental / semi statutory body / task force, that includes subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, botanists, zoologists, wetland specialists, soil scientists, environmental / urban / ecological planners, environmental / civil engineers, landscape architects, waste water specialists, other built environment professionals) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, related to the various facets of the river system in order to fulfill the above agenda in a proactive, transparent, and accountable manner.
  • Devise a regional plan at catchment level to create a comprehensive plan for the entire eco region of Bhuj city to address the unique ecological nature of the lake system.
  • Also, create new water reservoirs/lakes in other places as found suitable by the above-mentioned committee to compensate for the lost water reservoirs, stop flooding in the city, increase groundwater recharge, etc. Here, it is important to note that if the historical lake system is rejuvenated, the city can harvest more than enough water for its present population, even with the minimum annual rainfall 330 mm.
It is essential to take immediate actions to restore and protect historic lakes in the historic city of water stressed district of Gujarat. Everyone knows that nobody can survive without water.
We would like to meet the concerned authorities and discuss this dire situation and identify immediate actions that will help to restore the historic water system in our city as well as ensure the availability of groundwater recharge in the coming future thereby reducing dependency on imported water.
We look forward to a collective and positive response from all the concerned authorities at all levels now and in the longer term. We are willing to collaborate, devise, implement, monitor, evaluate, and course-correct holistic, ecologically sound approaches to and designs for appropriate development that will yield multiple benefits and lead to the right kind of brand value of Bhuj city and our eco-region, nationally and internationally.
Therefore, we the concerned citizens who have signed this letter request immediate steps to notify, rejuvenate, and protect lakes in the city of Bhuj.
















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