Perhaps the biggest and most heartening takeaway from working in Gurugram for the past 10 years has been the realisation that it does not necessarily take rare domain expertise to solve many of our everyday problems. And, that it is not a very complicated process. All it takes is the willingness of residents to take responsibility besides a supportive administration.
In 2015, the Bundh restoration project – a 5.2-km corridor stretching from Phase 1 Metro station to Sector 56 — was conceptualised in partnership with the forest department. It was to be an urban renewal initiative to create a non-motorised road access for the residents and a wildlife corridor in the city greens.
The bundh was initially constructed for floodwater control and water management in the villages. However, over the years, as the villages were consumed by the emerging megapolis, the bundhs became defunct and were degraded into garbage dumps and spots for open defecation.
Today, the purpose of a bundh is to provide sustainable mobility through a thick forest corridor. It is a linear park with walking and cycling tracks and a non-motorised link through the heart of Gurugram’s residential neighbourhoods. It also has universal accessibility with ramps for people using wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, crutches and tactile tiles for the visually impaired. Along with the accessibility, we have used permeable paving so that water percolates into the ground, have used sustainable energy lighting solutions and planted native and indigenous tree species.
The construction and demolition waste, dumped on the roadside, was also used to ensure efficient utilisation of resources and reduce air pollution. Along the bundh, there is a stormwater drain, which is meant to hold run-off water. Its porous sides and base allow water to seep into the ground.
However, over time, sewage disposal from surrounding villages and residential colonies polluted the drain and led to adverse environmental and hygiene effects. When the restoration of the drain started, it was frightening to see how much garbage has been dumped in the middle of the city, simply hidden by metal sheets. The place was stinking, pipes were all choked up, pigs were feasting, and every inch of the drain was filled with plastic. With help from the administration, our first step was to take out the plastic and toxic waste from the drain and send it to the designated landfill site.
After one year, the drain channels are clean and the trees, shrubs, herbs and grass cover are doing well on the banks due to the moisture, which has now led to arrival of birds, insects and other mammals. This massive transformation was able to rally local support.
As we succeeded in keeping the drain clean, we are now able take up another 2 km of the drain for cleaning and restoration. The garbage to a large extent will be taken out but the sewage needs to be diverted. We also need to find a way to ensure clean water seeps into the ground and use it for irrigation.
The restoration of neglected spaces helps in energising urban landscapes and creates a healthy environment for outdoor movement for city dwellers. We can now proudly say that the bundh is no different from Highline Park in New York City, where a disused rail line was converted into a 2.33 km long aerial greenway for the city.