New Delhi: Even though Gurgaon lies flat, the parks in DLF Ltd’s housing colonies don’t.
These mounds of rolling manicured grass usually start out a few feet above street level. The lawn often gives way to a flat, packed jogging track, and the track edges dip down to a low-lying bed of delicately pruned flowers.
“It is sort of a cut-and-paste landscape,” says Sunjoy Mehra, the developer’s horticulture director, describing the process of creating the gradations. But, the look of the flower beds though, owes more to a hydrologist than a designer. The park was designed to carry rainwater from the edge of the grounds straight to the contained low-lying areas, where the water could seep back into the ground.
Water scarcity is an issue throughout India, but in Gurgaon, a massive urban centre that has quickly sprung up in the middle of a desert-like terrain outside the Capital, the problem is especially acute.
This relatively new city’s water table has dropped more than 1m a year and is currently 40m below ground level, according to Surge, a non-profit organization that works on sustainable development issues in Gurgaon.
Green plan: A residential complex, with rainwater harvesting facility, being developed by Raheja Developers Pvt. Ltd in Gurgaon. (Rajeev Dabral / Mint)
A study by the Central Ground Water Board has already cautioned that in a mere decade, Gurgaon would have no groundwater left. But, the developers responsible for this city’s makeover have lured and continue to offer families the promise of 24-hour security, electricity—and water.
Now, faced with the prospect of being unable to fulfil their end of the deal, developers are starting to turn to green technologies to provide a solution. The efforts are partly due to some government prodding and legislation, even though many developers feel providing water should be the municipality’s responsibility.
Still, DLF, India’s largest builder by market capitalization and the grandaddy ofall Gurgaon builders, has started designing its parks with rainwater collection in mind.
In a sign of the scale of its project, the company sent vice-president D.P. Singh to Tata Steel Ltd’s plant in Jamshedpur recently to get advice on eco-friendly planning.
Meanwhile, for its 17-acre residential development here dubbed Vipul Greens, Vipul Ltd built a half-dozen wells within that property to collect rainwater. These wells basically function as the reverse of borewells and allow rainwater to seep back into the ground, thus bringing the water table back up.
Nearby, on Sohna Road in Vatika Group’s Vatika City, the company is building rainwater harvesting wells and its own sewage treatment plant, which will be used for irrigating the landscape and flushing toilets. Other sewage treatment plants in the works will also use treated water to cool air conditioning units.
“We are not discharging even a single drop,” claims Raheja Developers Pvt. Ltd vice-president Praveen Sehgal, as he describes the water systems at the company’s new development Raheja Atlantis. With an estimated population of 1.5 million, Gurgaon currently has no large-scale sewage treatment plant either.
In 2001, the Indian urban development and poverty alleviation ministry ordered all buildings with rooftops larger than 100 sq. m to build a rain harvesting system.
And, after another 2004 Union government directive, Haryana also ordered every new building to create a rainwater harvesting system, or risk forfeiting its completion certificate.
Other regions have added sharper teeth to their water legislation.
Chennai, for example, authorized cuts to municipal services for anyone that didn’t build a harvesting facility, and funded a programme to build a rainwater system on any property that didn’t have one, and charge it back to the owner. A survey conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment estimated that almost 90% of buildings in Chennai had some system in place.
But some activists think the government’s regulations don’t get at the root of the problem. “We’re afflicted by effects, but let causes go,” says Sudhirendar Sharma, a Delhi-based water expert and development analyst. “The municipality has not delivered water, and is asking everyone else to collect it.”
Activists seem doubtful that any developer initiatives will be entirely successful in replenishing Gurgaon’s fast depleting water supply. “Most of the time it’s eyewash,” says Salahuddin Saiphy, assistant coordinator of the Centre for Science and Environment’s rainwater harvesting unit. Saiphy estimates that only 2-3% of the national capital region has functioning harvesting systems in place.
Sharma questioned whether the new rainwater harvesting schemes in Gurgaon were scientifically engineered.
“My sense is that it would just be an excuse to ensure that the builders can charge the price they wish to,” he says.
Others are slightly more hopeful. B.N. Sharma, a senior Haryana town planner who retired from government in 2006, smiled when asked about such criticisms. “In the initial stages there may be some problem,” he said, hopeful that soon there would be “pressure to change through all sides”.