Centuries-old Indian stepwells may serve as a solution to water conservation during the scorching heat

Centuries-old Indian stepwells may serve as a solution to water conservation during the scorching heat
Representative image
As people increasingly feel the heat of global warming, the issue of water conversation is surfacing across all nations. However, India has been doing this for centuries. Water has been conserved in India since ancient times.
Our illustrious ancestors used India's "Khandani Khazana" (family treasure) or stepwells to store "liquid assets" or water.
They are most common in western India and are also found in the other arid regions of the Indian subcontinent. Step-wells' construction is mainly utilitarian, though they may include embellishments of architectural significance and be temple tanks.
Stepwells are examples of the many storages and irrigation tanks developed in India, mainly to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. These were built to make reaching, maintaining and managing groundwater levels easier for people.
The stepwell can be considered to originate from the need to ensure water during drought and in the deep relationship of faith in the water Gods as conspicuous even in the Vedas of around 1,000 BC.
Stepwells were used not only for water conservation and access but also as sites for religious ceremonies and rituals. Some were used as monuments and were highly decorated with elaborately carved images.
According to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030, it is targeted to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
Thus, replicating India's ancient model, many nations can build stepwell in areas where there is water scarcity, which will save hundreds of lives.
In India, stepwells are mainly found in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
These step wells generally depend on the recharge from nearby surface water sources, like village ponds, streams, canals and, in some cases, nearby rivers.

The location of these ancient wells is unique in that even during dry periods of the year, most of these wells have water in them, highlighting the ancient wisdom of craftsmen in those days. Most of these wells are part of phreatic aquifers of various formations such as alluvial, basaltic and phyllite.
In view of their structural uniqueness as well as their role in water conservation, the Government of Gujarat decided under mission mode, from 2007-08 to 2011-12, to revive, clean up and rejuvenate these stepwells, which are named "Jal-Mandir" - Water Temple - as these are part of our national heritage.
Nearly 1200 Jal- Mandirs were identified all over the State. Considering the importance of these heritage structures, the Government of Gujarat renovated several stepwells under Jal Mandir Yojana. The aim of the scheme is to see that these heritage structures are protected, made useful to the community, and appropriately maintained.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also referred to the Jal Mandir campaign during his interaction with Gram Panchayats and Pani Samitis on Jal Jeevan Mission in October 2021.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took up the works per National Conservation Policy 2014 to renovate and restore all the ASI monuments, including natural and man-made step wells, ports, ponds, tanks and lakes.
The Government of India is also contemplating a specific National policy protecting natural and artificial step wells, ports, ponds, tanks or lakes.
The Ministry of Jal Shakti under the Government of India has taken up a nationwide campaign, "Jal Shakti Abhiyan - Catch the Rain", with the theme "Catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls", for creating appropriate rainwater harvesting structures in urban and rural areas of all the districts in the country, with people's active participation, during the pre-monsoon and monsoon periods.
The campaign, primarily focusing on saving and conserving rainwater, was launched by the Prime Minister on 22 March 2021, World Water Day. Revival of traditional rainwater harvesting structures like stepwells has been envisaged as a critical part of this initiative.
The concept of Jal-Mandirs may be handy in those areas where the groundwater table is high and no assured supply schemes are available, namely tube wells or municipal supplies.
Replication of this concept in such areas appears advantageous.
In the absence of electricity in those times, the stepwells were a reliable source of groundwater for the population, travellers and princely armies on the move. The concept is innovative, especially from the view of the sustainability of the village water supply system by inculcating a sense of responsibility among people and motivating them to maintain the system by attaching social and religious facets to it, which is vital for water conservation.