Mansagar Lake

On the outskirts of the Indian city of Jaipur, the Mansagar Lake, is a 300-acre lake, about 130 hectares in its total spread, surrounded by the Nahargarh hills. This large manmade lake is situated between the historic town of Amber and the walled city of Jaipur and is the only significant water body on the northern fringe of the city of Jaipur.

Jal Mahal, an architectural monument, built in the early 18th century (1735), is situated in the midst of Mansagar Lake.

The artificial lake was formed during the 18th century, as a result of instituting a dam across the river Darbhawati, between Khilangarh hills and the hilly outcrop on the opposite hill (north), across the line of flow of runoff from the Nahargarh hills.

The lake is approximately 130 hectares in its full spread. It is at its maximum spread just after the monsoon and then gradually shrinks to its least spread just before the monsoon. The present spread of the lake has increased in recent times, mainly due to the silt deposition as a result of erosion, decreasing the depth of the lake.

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Long ago, there was a natural depression at the location of the lake, where water used to accumulate. During 1596 AD, a severe famine in this region caused an acute shortage of water. To overcome the severe hardships caused to the people by the famine, the then ruler of Amber was motivated to build a dam to store water. A dam was constructed, initially using earth and quartzite, across the eastern valley between Amber hills and Amagarh hills.

Mansagar was then a small natural shallow lagoon, on the edge of which, the Jal Mahal structure was located. The Jal Mahal, is an island or 'water palace' in the Man Sagar to the north of Jaipur, that was built as a pleasure resort for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Documents suggest that it was built at about the time of the transfer of the capital from the old city of Amber to the newly established Jaipur (i.e. 1727-34). Such island resorts were used by the rulers and their entourage for recreation. Jai Singh II of Amber is credited with the final restoration of the lake in the 18th century (1735). The lake was much smaller then. The present spread of the lake has increased in recent times mainly due to the silt deposition as a result of erosion, decreasing the depth of the lake.

Since then, the dam, the lake and the palace, have undergone several rounds of restoration, under the various rulers of Rajasthan.

The dam was converted into a stone masonry structure in the 17th century. The dam, as existing now (see picture), is about 300 metres (980 ft) long and 28.5–34.5 metres (94–113 ft) in width. It is provided with three sluice gates for release of water for irrigation of the agricultural land in the downstream area.

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Mansagar Eco System

The lake is an important component of the city's landscape. It influences the micro-climatic modifications in the city besides fulfilling other needs like improvement of surrounding ground water, greenery, etc.

The Mansagar lake area includes the dam on the east side, a road leading to Amber on the west side, and a colony Hazrat Ali Nagar on the south, and Kanak Vrindavan valley with temple complex and a reserve forest on the north side. The environmental and ecological sustainability of the lake is connected to its 23.5 sq. km catchment area, of which, 40 per cent is urban catchment, while the rest comprises the denuded Aravalli hills, which contributes to the silting of the lake.

Mansagar lake is also the habitat to a variety of migratory and resident birds and provides sustainable living to countless species of the aquatic ecosystem like fish, birds, insects, microorganisms and aquatic vegetation. The lake attracts more than 150 species of migratory and resident birds, especially from September to March-April, which feed upon the aquatic fauna and flora. Some of the migratory birds include Large Flamingo, Great Crested Grebe, Pintail, Pochards, Kestrel, Coot, Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Herring Gull, Red Breasted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, etc.

Downstream from the dam, more than a thousand acres are irrigated by the outflow of mixed lake water and raw sewage. The state government of Rajasthan is obligated to provide the water demand during the five months from November to March.

However, uncertain rainfall, scarcity of water and the search of an easy solution for waste disposal by ignorant communities led to the lake becoming a waste dump for the urban and nearby population.

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Mansagar Becomes A Waste Dump

After Independence, Mansagar lake and the Jal Mahal palace became the property of the Rajasthan government and was slowly turned to wasteland. By 1962, the expanding city of Jaipur needed vents to discharge the city's growing volumes of sewage. The two storm water nallahs of Nagtalai and Bramhapuri became the dumping ground, carrying the refuse from the city directly into the lake.

The lake being on the natural course of drainage of north Jaipur, receives a steadily increasing flow of partly treated and untreated wastewater. During heavy showers, the wastewater and runoff water get mixed and enter the lake through the two major nallahs nearby. The Brahmapuri nala carries the discharge from the city side and from the northern Sewage Treatment Plant (STP-27 million litre /day, extended aeration). The effluent of this plant has become vital to the sustenance of the lake, which would otherwise dry up in summer. However, due to the plant being only partly functional due to disrepair, the post-treatment parameters of the effluent are not even of secondary quality. Further, a large part of the sewage goes untreated and the volume of discharge from the STP has increased over the years as more and more areas are covered by the sewerage system.

The inflow of waste water and untreated sewage into the lake body severely contaminated the ground water in and around the lake area, making it unfit for drinking and a serious health hazard. Due to the high level of pollutants in the various inflows into the lake, the surface water quality was found to be very poor and the resultant high level of nutrients had led to the algal bloom. Testing of ground water quality also showed that it was not potable and had a high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and nitrate content. The low DO level, combined with high chloride levels, had led to an absence of aquatic life, including plants and fish. The phosphate content was also high and coliform bacteria were in excess.

The lakebed had increasingly become the depository of eroded silt materials and settled pollutant material from the influent nallahs. The lake also suffered from serious problems of siltation and settled deposits besides decrease in surface area due to artificial land formation due to eutrophication and loss of water due to outflow for downstream irrigation during summer. Moreover, the rainwater mingled with the polluted water of this lake made the stench unbearable for people living nearby. The lake had truly become a derelict waste dump.

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Government Efforts To Revive The Lake

The state government of Rajasthan made several attempts to restore the ecological and environmental condition of the lake and its adjoining area. However, none of these attempts yielded any positive result due to paucity of funds and a non-incentive-based approach to restoration. In 1994, the state government entrusted India Infrastructure And Finance Services (IL&FS) with finding a permanent solution to the development requirements of the lake.

In 1997, the company, PDCOR Limited (PDCOR) was set up, being jointly promoted by the Government of Rajasthan (GoR) and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) to facilitate private sector investment in the infrastructure sector in Rajasthan. As a solution, PDCOR proposed private sector participation in a sustainable development of the project area, in a public-private partnership.

In 2002, the government of India approved the plan for the Mansagar project and sanctioned a grant of Rs. 25 crore, to be allocated for the restoration work under the National River Conservation Program (NRCP). The JDA (Jaipur Development Authority) was appointed as the nodal agency for the lake restoration part of the project. Tenders were floated.

Many companies, including the Neemrana Group, with experience of restoring heritage, attended the pre-bid meeting. But most retreated. Only three companies were left of which the KGK Consortium won the bid by quoting a price 39 percent higher than the nearest rival. It also paid the minimum bid amount that was 1.5 times more than what the state government had asked for (Rs 2.5 crore). Being the highest bidder, a public-private partnership was created between the state government and Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt. Ltd. (JMRPL), backed by the KGK consortium.

Under this 2005 partnership, the state would clean up the lake by tapping into the government grant of Rs 25 crore while the private group would restore the Jal Mahal and also pay for the annual maintenance of both the monument and the lake, for which the private party received 100 acres of land in the vicinity of the lake, of which only13 per cent could be used for development as a tourist hub. The balance 87 per cent of the area was to be kept open. Thus, JMRPL took up the area of the lake (310 acres) for restoration and about 100 acres of land around it (totaling 432 acres), for development, on a 99 year lease from the state government.

The possession of the project land was given to JMRPL in April 2006. However, by this time, after spending Rs 25 crore from the lake fund, the lake was still stinking. The government was clear that if the private party wanted to do more, it would have to spend its own money on the clean-up job.

JMRPL wanted to do more. It was a unique project, between JMRL, backed by the KGK consortium including the Kalpataru group, and the Jaipur Development authority, government of Rajasthan, which involved environment conservation, heritage restoration and tourism development all rolled into one.

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Lake Restoration Under JMRPL

JMRPL moved with lightning speed to take up a holistic restoration of the area. An expert panel of IIT professors conducted a hydrological study. The lake restoration plan hinged upon treating sewage and effluents to tertiary parameters while the sustained management of water quality revolved upon diversion of sewage inflows, arresting soil erosion in the catchment area, water treatment and biological manipulation. The two nallahs were to be connected and diverted downstream of Mansagar dam so as to prevent the inflow of raw sewage and low-grade effluents into the lake. A new sewage treatment plant was planned to be commissioned outside the project area to intake effluent from the Brahmapuri nala and after treatment, discharge the upgraded secondary quality effluent through a perforated pvc pipe running along the length of the artificial wetland, for diffused dispersion, before being discharged into the lake.

Thus a twin pronged strategy was adopted whereby the lake-bed was dredged and desilted. A channel was also created to divert the two main sewer drains and storm water to a sedimentation basin. In the process, the river bed belched out two million tonnes of mud that was later used to create embankments within the lake. The depth of the lake was increased from one and a half metres to more than three metres. A 1.5 kilometre channel was created to divert the drains. At the east end of the lake, a seven metre deep sedimentation basin was created. The new channel carrying storm water and sewage from both the drains emptied into this basin.

This wide and deep depression was created to slow the high velocity flow of the drainage. At the end of the depression a bund was created using boulders, sand and excavated mud. The untreated waste now passed through this first basin and then into two more chambers with bunds with vegetation on them. The vegetation cleaned the water before it entered the lake, which was now clean enough to sustain a healthy population of aquatic flora and fauna.

Since 2008 onwards, to restore the ecological balance by upgrading the water quality of the lake, JMRPL started to construct three wetlands of a total 40,000 sqm area in the vicinity of Mansagar Lake, to facilitate filling up of the lake with clean water. The sewage water, which used to be directly routed into the lake, was diverted into these wetlands. Thus the inflow of raw sewage and low grade effluents into the lake was prevented.

Algae and plants like water hyacinth were grown to allow absorption of toxic elements. Water hyacinth was used due to its high biological productivity, and ability to remove BOD and nutrients from wastewater. A duckweed lagoon was created to further improve the water quality by reducing the nitrogen and phosphorous content. Then clean water flowed into Mansagar Lake. Heavy silt deposits were removed from the dry portions of the lake. To decelerate the erosion in the catchment and thereby arrest or slow the siltation of the lake, afforestation in the hill catchment was initiated.

In addition, the avian population was sought to be augmented by an increase in the reserve forest vegetation density, growth in the populations of various fish species and other forms of marine life and aquatic vegetation besides a nesting and feeding site. This renewed the aquatic ecosystem and attracted hordes of bird species. Today, the lake has once again attracted more than 150 species of local and migratory birds. Cormorants, grey heron, white browed wagtail, blue tailed bee eaters are a common sight now. The lake also sustains countless species of the aquatic ecosystem like fish, birds, insects, microorganisms and aquatic vegetation.

All these measures have helped to save Mansagar Lake from extinction. The lake that would dry up during the summers has been full of water for the last two years even when the city received below normal rainfall.

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Jal Mahal Restoration Under JMRPL

This dilapidated monument in the midst of the lake used to be a favourite haunt of the anti-social elements till a few years ago. In 1971, the Archaeological Survey of India had removed it from the list of historical monuments and even the locals had little knowledge of the history of this lake palace, which was believed to have belonged to the royals.

There were no historical records to suggest how the palace looked in its original state, as it appeared to be in ruins even in photographs as old as 140 years. However, with the help of historians, and master craftsmen, a template was created and the restoration work began.

Underneath the layers of plaster, the building itself was largely undamaged, except for a few cracks along the stone pavings. The red sandstone palace was originally designed so the first four storeys could be completely submerged when the lake was full, leaving only the top floor exposed. The lower floors comprised of pristine marble pillars, white corridors and tiny chambers (to be converted into audio-visual rooms) and a staircase, which takes one into an octagonal sunken garden overlooking the lake.

Traditional construction material was used for restoration Just the plaster for repairing the damaged walls took a whole year to prepare. This plaster was prepared with traditional methods - a mix of lime, sand and surkhi (burnt clay) along with a mixture of jaggery, guggal and methi powder. As a part of the monument is submerged under water at all times, the stone was thoroughly checked for seepage.

As the original garden was lost to antiquity, the landscaping was done with the help of available records in the Amber fort and paintings, under the guidance of heritage garden experts and anthropologists. The garden has since been recreated in marble and the palace has been restored to its princely glory.

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Jal Tarang Project

Besides lake restoration, the vision for this unique project involved environment conservation, monument and heritage restoration, and tourism development. It was meant to provide the blue print for other water bodies, fallen derelict, in the state.

The development project includes the creation of a water front, Jal Tarang, as a green leisure destination for locals and tourists along Mansagar Lake, with a pedestrian walkway along the lake with 20 restaurants. At the heart of Jal Tarang would be the restored and newly resplendent Jal Mahal, envisioned as a unique cultural venue, where music, dance, poetry and the arts would blossom. The plan included boat jetties to take visitors to Jal Mahal and an amphitheatre for cultural events.

The area around the lake would be developed as a social infrastructure project with open spaces including parks, pedestrian nature trails and nesting islands, designed to be open to the public without entry charges. About 87 per cent of the 100 acre land was planned to be kept open and green.

However, in view of the initial physical development cost and the provision of low and non-priced activities of the project, certain high revenue generating activities were also included to cross-subsidise the developmental cost and sustain the project in the long term.

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Project Sustainability

Certain revenue generating options were considered, based on the demand assessment of the local residents, domestic and foreign tourists besides environment and cultural significance of the commercial facilities in and around the lake. These options included a roof top cafe at Jal Mahal, a museum in the monument, a lake front restaurant, boating in the lake, water sports and sailing club, a luxury heritage resort and spa with traditional accommodation and a back to nature theme, an amusement park for children and a sound and light show on the historical significance of the monument. The plan also includes a 1500 capacity car park to be created on 12 acres.

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The Jal Mahal Restoration Team

Considering the importance of an urban wetland, its rehabilitation within the prime urban area, involving various land issues compounded the task and would have been impossible without the key experts working together with their teams and the state government.

The Lake and Jal Mahal restoration team thus involved multiple agencies of the government for resolving administrative issues, architectural experts, historians, environmental engineers, biologists, ornithologists, anthropologists and master craftspersons.

These experts created the framework for the implementation of the project to restore Mansagar lake to its past glory where there is ecological balance and environmental sustainability.

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Major Project Development Costs

The total planned expenditure, including lake restoration and land development was estimated at Rs 500 crore.

These development costs were incurred up front by the developer.

Source: Jal Tarang Corporate Communications