(Feature Image: Giri taal in Kashipur lying in degraded condition. Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP)
The Giri Taal in Kashipur town of Udham Singh Nagar district, Uttarakhand is yet another text book example of how a rich water resource has gradually been succumbing to unplanned development and official neglect. This short pictorial report after a brief visit to the Taal tries to highlight its socio-ecological values and the threats the water body is facing. As per National Wetland Atlas 2011 out of total 2,912 sqkm geographical area of the US Nagar district 6.90 percent (20,099 hectare) is under wetland which is highest in the state.
Giri taal (taal literally means a talab or water body) is shallow aquifer fed natural water body in the heart of the Kashipur town. The origin of the rectangular shaped taal is supposed to be linked to Pandav era. During 1980s, the taal was connected with kulwas (minor canal) from Tumria dam in Jaspur on Phika river a tributary of Ramganga.
Spread on about 13 acres of land, the taal has been a major source of irrigation water to surrounding agricultural land for the past hundreds of year. But over the last four decades, most of the adjoining agricultural land has been taken over by residential areas. Presently the inlet to fill and outlet to drain the taal are defunct and choked with solid waste.
The taal has open access from three side (East, West, North) and is covered with a boundary wall from South side which also has a walking track, a park, a temple complex. The entire surroundings is under thick green cover of hundreds of trees resembling a mini grove which provide refuse to variety of avian species including few bat colonies on eucalyptus trees.
With decline in groundwater table, the taal is surviving only on rainwater falling over it and run offs escaping into it from nearby area.
Rest of the year, the water body receives waste water from nearby residential units located on Eastern side of it.
Every stretch and corner of the taal be it boundary wall, outer periphery, park area, green belt or edge of water body is littered with all sort of solid waste mostly plastic and religious leftovers. Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP
Construction waste is also being dumped along north portion of the taal and there have been permanent encroachments going on without a check.
Lowering of the water table and absence of fresh water supply has resulted in drying up of a large part of the taal in west side just two months after the south west monsoon season. Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP
Only a small part of the water body in the centre is water filled along with some wet patches most of which are under aquatic and riparian vegetation cover.
Water birds including moor hens, little herons, lapwings etc. can be seen voyaging through the vegetation cover hunting for insects and worms. Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP.
Strangely, no government departments whether irrigation, tourism, municipality, water resources, urban development are taking care of taal in any respect. There have been talks of beautification and development of water body as a tourist spot for the past several years.
The management of the taal was entrusted to a sub-committee of Hindi Prem Sabha, Kashipur a society formed by late Shri Govind Ballabh Pant. The committee has been at the helm of affairs for past 104 years regarding management of the taal and has been citing lack of maintenance funds for poor state of affairs.
To mobilize resources, it has been running a library in Giri taal complex and has allotted a portion of the water body for parking of vehicles. It still finds it difficult to resolve the concerns.
“The committee used to lease out the water body for cultivation of lotus stem (kamal kakdi) for past several years but stopped it following complaints of local residents”, says one of the office bearers.
The harvest of lotus stem required draining out of entire taal water which was objected by the locals as a reason for lowering groundwater table and affecting their water supply pumps, he further reveals. Now the committee allows cultivation of water chestnut (singharas) in taal which is among the reasons for it being under thick vegetation cover.
Similarly, the boating activity started some years ago to promote tourism was soon suspended after the committee found it immoral as it was mainly attracting young couples indulging in obscenity. “There are fish in the taal but fishing is are not allowed because it is against the religious sentiments of the people here”, says the office bearer.
According to the committee, government plans are more about commercialization of Giri taal and less about beautification or protection of it. On the top of all, the ownership rights seems major issue leading to present day situation where this unique water body with glorious past is staring at uncertain future amid increasing threats.
If the government pays required attention, the taal can become prefect example of an urban water body supporting thick tree cover, rich aquatic and birds life, providing socio-economic benefits to locals, recreational spot to visitors and harvesting rainwater to maintain groundwater table in the expanding town of Kashipur.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)