Four sites in India have received the World Heritage Irrigation Structure (WHIS) tag this year. The sites are Cumbum Tank, Kurnool-Cuddapah Canal, Porumamilla Tank (Anantharaja Sagaram) in Andhra Pradesh and 490-year-old Dhamapur Lake in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district. In 2018, Pedda Cheru Tank in Kamareddy district and Sadarmat Anicut in Nirmal district, both in Telangana, were named as WHIS sites.
The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), a global network of irrigation, drainage, and flood management experts, annually recognises irrigation structures of international significance on the lines of World Heritage Sites recognised by the UNESCO.
Rishi Srivastava, director, Central Water Commission (CWC), said they were notified earlier this month about the declaration. “It is a prestigious moment for India as these structures are now of international significance. These structures, when they were built, were ahead of their times in terms of their technology. State governments will get more incentive and motivation to maintain them and ensure they are functional for years to come based on this recognition.”
Other recognised sites this year globally included four structures in China, two from Iran, three in Japan.
So far, Japan (42) has the highest number of WHIS sites followed by China (23). India, Iran and Sri Lanka have 6 each.
Every country has a national committee and they share the information about their sites with ICID, which then passes it to an international jury. “Major criteria for WHIS entails that a structure should be more than 100 years old, should be functional, achieving food security and have archival value. Each site is evaluated based on its merits first by the state government. The proposal is then sent to the Centre and a team from CWC carries out an on-ground survey to verify details. Findings are presented before the national committee, which finally submits the proposal in the prescribed format (with Central government inputs and on-field photographs) to the international jury,” said Srivastava.
The Dhamapur Lake irrigates 237 ha land every year. There are 64 streamlets that feed it. Two outlets emerging from Kavadewadi dam and Guramwadi dam also feed water to it. The site was built in 1530 by villagers of Dhamapur and Kalse.
“Size of these lakes or dams is not a criteria for WHIS as Dhamapur is much smaller than other dams that have been awarded this recognition this year or in the past but what is most astonishing is this lake is almost 500 years old. It was and continues to be a technology marvel that stood through time,” said Srivastava.
Sachin Desai, a local resident, said the Dhamapur Lake stands as an example of community participation in the past and present. “It displays the wisdom of our ancestors. The recognition saves the area from unplanned development and also creates history. This shows that learned citizens should come forward for documentation of heritage and natural assets of our country.”
The CWC plans to nominate more sites this year. “For 2021, we have written letters to all state principal secretaries to identify and propose such ancient structures before the next meeting scheduled this time next year. Owing to Covid-19, the entire process was slightly delayed this year. However, we want at least 8-10 worthy proposals if not more by early 2021, so that we have time to evaluate them on the field,” said Srivastava.
Nomination forms are to be submitted to ICID by June 30 every year.
Srivastava said countries like Pakistan were earlier awarded WHIS for structures built well over a 100 years back. “While those structures might be located in present-day Pakistan, they were actually built in India. This is when we began the process and wrote to various states asking them to propose such structures showcasing our rich heritage,” he said.
The Dhamapur Lake is one of the top 100 wetlands in India identified by the Union government for rapid restoration and improvement. It is expected to be proposed as a Ramsar site (wetland of international significance) by the Maharashtra government. There are 193 floral and 247 faunal species in this wetland.