Reclaiming India’s Nalas

Located in a poor, low-lying neighborhood in the City of Patna which is prone to debilitating floods, a heavily polluted nala (a low ground made into a drain), exemplifies a deep-seated problem with the infrastructure of cities in India. Driven to drain land of the heavy rain that comes with the monsoon each year, this infrastructure has made cities vulnerable to flood through drains that are choked with debris, polluted with sewage and toxic effluent, and encroached upon by unauthorized settlements.

The infrastructure of cities in a monsoon landscape ought not to drain land of rain, but rather to hold it in multiple ways and places—in the earth, on the ground and in flora and fauna. While the government searches for lasting solutions to these problems, this PennPraxis project, led by Anuradha Mathur and PennPraxis Design Fellows, will work in collaboration with leading scientists in the US and India in the area of biotic engineering, and the Anant National University in Ahmedabad, to revise the city's relationship to rain in India. It sets the stage not only for cities to become rain-holding systems, but also for nalas to recover their traditional role as places of holding and cultivation—this time with biotic cleansing material.

The development of a schematic design and feasibility study for the reclamation of the Saidpur Nala in Patna in tandem with the development of the adjacent Science City Museum project sponsored by the Government of Bihar poses the questions: can the nala be transformed into a biotic cleanser and habitat that serves as the front for communities and the Science City Museum rather than an unsightly backyard? And can the learnings from this project be used across Patna and through other cities in India?