Saturday, March 16, 2013

Remains of old structures of water supply system in Ranchi city of India.

It was built in the year 1925-30 by British officials.

Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi


Above are the pictures of the old structures of water supply system in Ranchi build by the British officials during 1925-30s on Ranchi-Kanke road near Potpoto river .They identified and developed big water catchments area to trap rain water in Kanke for daily use. This water reservoir still exists and it is the best example of rain water harvesting during that period. Kanke Dam didn’t come into existence. Water was lifted from the reservoir passed through giant boilers like structure. As the concept of this big boiler is not clear it may have been used as the tools for lifting water from the nearby source. After lifting the water from the reservoir it was poured into tanks made of different chambers for further treatment.  Water was then supplied to British official’s quarters and residence of the area. At the time of rainy season surplus water was allowed to flow in Potpoto River flowing near by. At present many junk boilers of that time are left in an open space.

Many different water treatment methods were used in early days. Methods include the boiling of water over fire, heating of water under the sun, dipping of heated iron into water and filtration through gravel and sand.

The above chambers shown in the picture must have been filled with gravel and sand for the filtration and also sedimentation and finally the water was distributed either through pumping or with the use of a horse and cart after chlorination.

Earlier two factors combine to render the problem of sanitation less acute in Ranchi than in any other districts. In the first place the natural drainage, owing to the configuration of the ground, was excellent, and in the second place, there were no very large villages and the bazaars. The main problem was the supply of good drinking water. The town of Ranchi was having plenty of good wells, and the water supply was sufficient for the population before the town became the temporary head quarters of the local government in 1912. The increase in the population made it necessary to consider the possibility of a water supply scheme, but the schemes which had been prepared were too costly to be undertaken. Two small pumping stations were erected, one at Ranchi to supply water to Government House and the quarters occupied by officers, and the other at Hinoo to supply water to the quarters occupied by clerks. The villagers relied for their water supply on rivers flowing through Ranchi town, tanks, and danris, or springs which were found in the low-lying paddy fields while at the more important bazaars and villages the District Board constructed masonry wells. Many more such wells were needed, and an increase in their number would have improved greatly the health of the district, by removing one of the chief causes of dysentery and the other bowel complaints.

Jharkhand is today facing huge water crisis. There is an enormous unmet demand for water. Even as clear water sources are being viciously attacked by pollution and overexploitation, hardly any river (Harmu, Potpoto, Jumar, Swarnrekha) or groundwater aquifer near Ranchi city today escapes the perils of pollution or groundwater depletion.

Before independence survey was done by few geologist to identify site for constructing water reservoirs. J. B. Auden in year 1946 visited the Ranchi plateau to explore the possibilities of obtaining required quantity of water from well or tubewells for the proposed Military Headquarters site. He pointed out that the Archaean rocks were unsuitable for tubewells and open wells which may get dry up during summer. He suggested for surface water use.

Ranchi was receiving sufficient rainfall, on an average there were 80 rainy days ( i.e. days with rainfall of 2.5 mm or more) in a year. British officials may have decided to build small reservoirs to trap this rain water for their daily use. Above mentioned reservoir is one of them. Even the local zamindars (land lords) understand the importance of the ponds and lakes and they constructed many village ponds in late 18th century and early 19th century. One was made by Jagatpal Singh in the Pithoria village near to Ranchi, which still exist.

Earlier famines and different water borne diseases in Ranchi dist. must have motivated the British officials and local zamindars to construct such reservoirs. There was severe drought in 1820, 1823,1827 and 1837. Since 1888 there have been three famines, in 1896-97, in 1899-1900 and in 1907-08. Regarding different water borne disease Cholera and other diseases were rampant in the area.

In 1854 it was discovered that a cholera epidemic spread through water. The outbreak seemed less severe in areas where sand filters were installed. British scientist John Snow found that the direct cause of the outbreak was water pump contamination by sewage water. He applied chlorine to purify the water, and this paved the way for water disinfection. Since the water in the pump had tasted and smelled normal, the conclusion was finally drawn that good taste and smell alone do not guarantee safe drinking water. This discovery led to governments starting to install municipal water filters (sand filters and chlorination), and hence the first government regulation of public water.

In normal years the number of deaths in Ranchi from cholera was small. The natural drainage of the district was excellent and it was only after a very weak monsoon that the wells and the danris or springs in the terraced rice-lands, failed to give a supply of water, which with care is potable. In 1908 the disease broke out in epidemic form, both in the famine area to the west of the district and in the town of Ranchi, and the death in this area rose to 7.01 per mile. In 1912 there were 347 deaths in all. There was a virulent outbreak in the village of Hatma Karamtoli, near Ranchi, which caused 27 deaths out of 40 cases in a period of three weeks.

Early in 19th century dysentery and diarrhoea were common and caused considerable mortality during the hot and rainy seasons. Bad drinking water was a principal cause of these diseases and little care was taken to keep the tanks and danris, which formed the water supply of rural areas, free from pollution.

Artificial lakes and tanks were formed at some places by erecting embankments across the beds of the rivers. The largest of these are the Ranchi Lake excavated in the year 1842 by a British agent, Colonel Onsely, the lake near the former Maharaja’s palace at Ratu and one near Toto.

Nature has been issuing warning signals like steep decline in water table, stoppage of base flow in streams and drying up of a large number of open wells and drilled bore wells.

In Jharkhand water underground few years ago had remained a precious resource to be tapped in times of need when all other sources of water had failed. This is no longer the case. The reckless way in which the people of Jharkhand are drilling more and more number of wells, drill deeper and deeper into the ground and withdraw water without exercising any restraint for domestic and commercial buildings and flats, shows gross abuse. Great damage has already been caused and any further abuse of this resource will result in water crisis.

Formerly the drinking water requirement of Jharkhand State was met by the construction of tanks, ponds and wells by the people themselves who also take care to keep these structures in good repair.

Tanks, ponds have been allowed to fill with silt and remain almost dry during the summer season and with no source of recharge, well become dry just after the winter season. You can easily imagine the situation in the peak summer season. Drying trend starts from February itself. Land in many parts is become bare due to depletion of ground water.
In the type of meteorological conditions prevailing in Jharkhand where rainfall is restricted to about three to four months in a year. Major dams are not capable of storing more than 10 to 20 % of the rain water that falls in their catchment area because of the filling up of silt and clay from last several years which has gradually shallowed the dams. The annual rainfall of Jharkhand is 1200 mm.

The State of Jharkhand, although claims to be a store house of minerals of India, is not so reach in water resources. Most of the area is occupied by the hard rock, which is in general protracted drought prone areas.

Taking note of the pattern of rainfall and geology of the state, water conservation through numerous large and small ponds is a much better alternative for storing rain water as it was done in earlier days.  Idea is that catch rain water where it falls, store it and make use of it for your needs.


Kumar, N. 1970. Ranchi district Gazetteer.

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