• Publish Date: Sep 10 2018 3:32AM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 10 2018 3:36AM

Mohan Lal (73) of SukiKarlai, Udhampur, remembers in the days of yore his town was famous for its “Baa, BarhteBowlisyan” (cool breeze, banyan trees and natural springs).

The elderly man says the banyan trees still exist in good number, the breeze of the town is also refreshing, but the Bowlis are dwindling in number.

“My father would take me along to the Mian Bagh Bowli for bath when I was a child. And there, I vividly remember, he would discuss with people and take pride in Udhampur being referred to as the town of Bowlis, as there were over 500 natural springs then,” says Lal.

“But now this number has declined to 100 or 110. This is disturbing! But who cares? This generation is least interested in its history, heritage, traditions and resources. They have their own world to live in.”

“Having said this, I am not saying they should not enjoy their life, but one should not forget his/her roots,” states Lal.

Asked reasons behind the fast depletion of natural springs in Udhampur, the septuagenarian says, “I believe that lack of upkeep is the major reason. In our time, people would contribute money as well as time for the construction, renovation of Bowlis. Some would volunteer for the manual works. Nowadays, people are only after money. Even the people who claim to be the social workers are doing everything for money.”

Around 100 left-over Bowlis in Udhampur are till date a major source of drinking water to several thousand souls of the district. It is believed that the water of these natural springs is very digestive and it cures several skin disorders.

Author Chander M Bhat has written a detailed account on the significance and the history of some of the famous Bowlis of Udhampur in www.ikashmir.net. In his article, Bhat has particularly mentioned about the cluster of 8 Bowlis at DevikaGhat, a place where the Hindus are cremated in Udhampur. Of the 8 Bowlis at Devika, according to Bhat, 3 have been earmarked for bathing purpose, while the water of the other Bowlis is used for temple purpose only.

According to the author, there is a natural spring at village Londana near BattalBallian in Udhampur. It is believed that the water of this spring cures skin diseases.  

BillanBowli, situated along the bypass that connect Head Post Office Udhampur with Jammu-Srinagar Highway, is known for its crystal clear water and digestive properties, the author writes. 

The beautiful KallarBowli on the western side of Udhampur on Dhar Road, as per author, has green water that oozes out from the hill and the same is being stored in a pond built in the year 1953 by the residents of this locality.

Author Chander M Bhat describes KhartairiBowli, situated along the Jammu-Srinagar highway at Sangoor, Barrian village, as the main source of drinking water for the people living around.  

On Air Force Road is the MianBaghBowli. According to the locals, the spring has been constructed hundreds of years back. RatairiBowli situated on Railway Road near pump station is also a major source of drinking water to the locals and the passerby.

The cool water of the SakanBowli, a group of two Bowlis, separated in the middle by a cemented structure, on the Sangoor-Railway Road is a refreshment for many railway passengers who take bath there and drink the spring water.  

Mangu Di Bowli near DevikaGhat, constructed in the year 1941 and SansuBowli, some 4 kilometers from the Udhampur city are some of the other famous springs of the town.

According to Bittu and Lal Chand, both in their fifties, who run a scrap shop near MianBaghBowli on Air Force Road, there used to be 307 fresh water springs in between DoddanBowli in Sataini Village (situated along the Udhampur-Ramnagar Road) to SakanBowli near Railway Station, Udhampur.

“I am witness to the burying of many Bowlis under the debris brought by the flood waters. Some were renovated, while the others were not. Now, there are not more than 20-30 Bowlis in this stretch (Sataini to Railway Station),” says Bittu.

Lal Chand believes that the availability of piped water connectivity at every household is also a reason for the neglect of the traditional water sources.

“In the earlier times, people would not prefer drinking the tap water. Moreover, every household would not get the access to piped water supply. So people would rely on traditional sources of water for bathing, washing clothes and other purposes,” says Lal Chand.

“Only after the PHE department started providing the piped water connectivity to every household, people stopped visiting the Bowlis, thus started the depletion of traditional water sources,” Chand says further.

Kaka Ram, in his seventies, whose house is in the vicinity of the famous BillanBowli on the bypass, says, “There were more than 4 Bowlis near the BillanBowli, and from Kallar to district hospital Udhampur there were around 105. But the number has now come down to 15 or 16.”

He further says, “The number of the natural springs is dwindling due to various reasons, lack of upkeep by the public and government the major ones.”

“Let us understand why the natural springs are depleting fast. There are two Bowlis commonly called as ‘GarneAali Baan’ in SyalSallan Village and SakanBowli in Railway Station area. There is proper road connectivity to the second one, while the group of natural springs in SyallSallan lack the road access. The second still exists on the map of the state, while one of the two GarneAaliBowlis have dried up and the other is also on the verge of drying up,” claims Kaka Ram.

“Not only this, the SakanBowli has been maintained and looked after by the Rural Development Department, Jammu and Kashmir, while there is no one to take care of the GarneAaliBowli. Not just the government, it is also the responsibility of the general public to protect their natural sources of water,” says Kaka Ram.

A report says that NITI Ayog has alerted the government that Himalayan states will soon face an acute water shortage as more than half of the perennial springs have “already dried up or have become seasonal.”

The Ayog in its report “Inventory and revival of springs in Himalayas for water security” said, “More than half of the perennial springs have already dried up or have become seasonal and tens of thousands of villages are facing an acute water shortage for drinking and domestic purposes.”

It has also asked the Centre to implement a “spring-shed management” scheme.   

Little to no efforts are being made by the Jammu and Kashmir government to protect the natural springs from depletion due to the “financial and resource constraints.”

Special Secretary to Jammu and Kashmir government, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Sheetal Nanda says, “Natural resource management is a high priority area for the NREGA. Instructions have been issued to the BDOs to do the needful.”

“However, the works have to be executed within 60:40 labour-material ratio. I would request people to take up works in areas where the natural springs are on the verge of extinction,” says the officer.

Former panchayat representative of Syal Village, Jagdish Bhardwaj seconds Nanda for her assertion that public participation is also must to save the natural resources.

“Government cannot do everything. People too have some responsibilities towards their surroundings. Only a joint effort of government and general public can save our natural water resources from extinction,” says Bhardwaj.