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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Historical tank cries for attention

The Delhi High Court’s October 13, 2002 deadline to make the city’s historic water tanks "presentable" had proved unsuccessful in drawing the attention of the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) to a number of tanks and baolis, mainly in Delhi.

Jahaz Mahal

 Jahaz Mahal

Hauz-i-Shamsi, a water tank, spread over 20,000 square metres constructed by Shamsuddin Iltutmish in 1230 AD, in Mehrauli, South Delhi, is one of these tanks. It is one of Delhi’s prime monuments crying for attention. Negligence on the part of the ASI, and misuse by slum-dwellers residing in the nearby localities have converted it into a stinking pond covered with hyacinths floating over its dirty green water.

The slum-dwellers have been using its water for washing clothes and cleaning vessels. The boundary wall of the tank has cracked from many places and part of it is being used as garbage dump.

Vinod Kumar Jain of Tapas, a non-governmental organisation working for the protection of wetlands, said, "despite the high court’s order to make the water tank presentable, the ASI has done nothing". He adds, "only the garbage dump on one side of the tank has disappeared but that does not make it presentable."
Superintending archaeologist of the ASI, AK Sinha claimed that to make the tank ‘presentable’ signboards had been prepared which will be placed soon. Admitting negligence to the tank by his organisation, Sinha said work would start soon and the ASI was definitely going to make Hauz-i-Shamsi ‘presentable’ before the next court hearing.

Jahaz Mahal [ship palace] is situated in the middle of Hauz-i-Shami. Once a beautiful red sand-store pavillion, it still stands firmly. According to history, boats were used to reach Jahaz Mahal.

Speaking on the conditions of the Jahaz Mahal, Jain said, "with civic agencies turning a blind eye, half of the pond has been occupied by encroachers. Thus, the Jahaz Mahal now lies on one side of the pond."

Similar is the fate of Gandhak ki Baoli, a contemporary pond of Hauz-i-Shamsi. The distance between them is only a few kilometres. The indiscriminate use of the pond water by residents in the area has pushed it to the verge of dryness.

According to Jain, "The ASI has not touched it. No distilling work has been carried out to bring out the water." Sinha opined that the Gandhak ki Baoli was last distilled about a year back. He said that distilling would not help now as there is no water underneath. 

— Jeelani Khan 

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