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Monday, December 5, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 44 :: Ramsar status of Bhoj Wetland threatened

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A weekly pull out of a local English language newspaper published the other day the news of arrival of the feathered friends around the water bodies of Bhopal. With the approach of winter these friends are flying in from distant lands only to roost and breed around the local water bodies. The report was based on the sightings of several bird-watchers of the city. Apparently, bird-watching or birding as it is generally mentioned is becoming popular, more so, during the few winter months. Among the water bodies the report mentioned were numerous ones, from Hathaikheda Dam, Kaliasot Dam to Kolar Dam and Ghodpachhad Dam in and around Bhopal, though Van Vihar or, more appropriately, Bhoj Wetland remains the primary venue for the visitors. Even the Shahpura Lake gets some of these birds.

Most of the birders are very charitable towards the Bhoj Wetland. They never mention that the birdlife of the water body has been steadily dwindling. Hence the names of water bodies located outside the city are generally mentioned. Only a couple years ago I had come across a report that the migratory birds were coming to this region during the season but they were overflying Bhopal and going as far as Halali Dam, around 50 kilometres away.

The arrivals in Bhopal had to decrease because of thoughtless increase in human activities around the Wetland. To start with, it was a mistake to locate the Sports Authority of India complex so close to the Bird Area. It may be satisfying the requirements of distance from a bird area but the intense human sporting activities with or without powerful lights does drive away the birds. Unceasing human activities of such nature close to a bird area will never be to their liking, especially when they come flying over long distances from their native habitat.

The amusement complex of Sair Sapata of the Tourism Development Corporation was another ill-conceived project which is now up and running for some years. Situated bang on the Upper Lake next to the bird area, it is spread over an area of around 25 acres. Designed to entice visitors, especially children, it has a toy train, musical fountains, children’s play area spread over 2 acres and several view points. An additional attraction is the suspension bridge with profuse illumination at night. Conceptually one cannot have any quarrel with it but its location was unwisely chosen particularly because it is so close to the Wetland threatening its status of Important Bird Area. Its nightly activities would certainly drive away the birdlife from the area which, according to some reports, has already happened.

Apart from these major deterrents, the water of the Upper Lake was highly polluted till the arrival of the last monsoon. It had been so for humans for quite some time but it later became harmful even for the fauna that have made the Wetland their temporary or permanent habitat. The last heavy monsoon seems to have been helpful in diluting the pollutants and has drained away some of their lethal elements. This is what the local Pollution control Board claims which, I am afraid, one takes with a pinch, if not fistful, of salt.

What is more alarming is the ongoing construction that is continuing unabated in the absence of any check. The government and the Municipal Corporation have not acted upon the report submitted two year ago by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Environment engaged by the government for suggesting ways to conserve the Upper Lake. In the absence of any check already numerous schools have been opened in the Bishenkhedi area and there is a proposal to build a cricket stadium of international standards accompanied by sundry other construction that might become necessary. If that were to happen the bird life of Bhoj Wetland could well be written off.

As situation stands today, the fact that seems to emerge that Bhoj Wetland does not habour any more the birds – domestic or migratory – in the same numbers as it used to when it was declared a Ramsar Site as also, later, when it was designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Apparently, before Bhoj Wetland was declared a Ramasar Site it used to host on a “regular basis” 20000 or more water birds. That is one of the criteria for designating a wetland as a Ramsar Site under the Ramsar Convention. From the reports one gets these days or even on the basis of visual assessments it looks like that the Wetland hosts “on regular basis” far less number of water birds. If that be the case the Ramsar Status of the Wetland would be considered to be under serious threat and so also its status of Important Bird Area.


Only a scientific count of the birds and bird species would reveal the facts of the matter. I do not recall any such count in the recent past. It would, therefore, seem to be high time that such a count is arranged by the state government in collaboration with some recognized organization like the Bombay Natural History Society or by the Indian chapter of Birdlife International. If the views that now prevail of reduction in the Wetland’s birdlife are found to be correct, the authorities could, perhaps initiate actions to strive and prevent withdrawal of the status. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Destinations :: Himachal Pradesh (3) :: Chamba (1977)

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Laxmi Narain Temple, Chamba (from internet)
In the month of October of 1977 my wife and I decided to take in Chamba and its surroundings. Chamba is in the Himachal on the banks of Ravi, one of the famed five rivers of Punjab and a tributary of the Indus. Situated at a height of a little more than 3000 ft. it has a very friendly and pleasant climate, more so because we happened to be there in October. The monsoons had withdrawn and the place was green with clear blue skies and one could hear the River, rejuvenated
View of Chamba from the open frounds
and roaring, making its way down to the plains.

Chamba is a historical place and finds mention in ancient texts. Its kingdom changed many hands. The district was well protected by the high Himalayas and many of its temples have survived, some of them that are more than 1000 years old have living deities and are being used for worship till
In the open grounds
today. It is a temple town with numerous important temples. The Laxmi Narayan temple is the most visited. It has that typical Chamba architecture with wooden chhatries topped by shikharas. We visited it but unfortunately did not take a shot

Chamba, like all hill capitals, has a large ground where people come and perambulate or just hang around. We too did so sitting out in the sun and could watch the distant landscape of greenery and buildings – some modern, some
Chamba art (from internet)
historical. It was a pleasure doing nothing in the warmth of the sun.

Chamba also is known for its style of painting that originated in the 18th Century during the reign of one Raj Singh, one of the popular rulers of Chamba. The Guler-Chamba style of painting evolved and flourished during his reign. Drawing from nature as also from the Hindu epics they were greatly influenced by the Mughals and found expression in murals and miniatures.

KHAJJIYAR

Khajjiyar
While in Chamba we took a day trip to a place called Khajjiyar, a place that was highly recommended by friends. The three-hour painful journey in a ramshackle bus over a very bad road was tiresome. At places the road was so narrow that while negotiating a hairpin bend one of the rear wheels would go out and away from the road and get suspended in thin air over a thousand feet of fall. The driver was remarkable in his composure and took the passengers safely to more than 6000 ft. high hill station of Khajjiyar.

All the tiredness and anxiety of the fearsome journey disappeared as we saw the green meadows surrounded by deep green thick forests of
Khajjiyar. The place had very little construction and that too at the far end from where we gor off the bus. The meadows  presented the classical picture-postcard scene of sheep and horses grazing on the sumptuous grass. It reminded me of my first view of Gulmarg in the summer of 1957 as my elder
Forests od Khajjiyar
brother and I climbed up from Tangmarg and got the glimpse from the spur of a ridge of the green meadows down below where horses were busy grazing. In the middle of the meadow of Khajjiyar there was a small pond which had some water, fed as it is by a few streams.

Khajjiyar presented a fabulous view. The entire meadow was flooded by a sharp and bright sunshine. The cold at 6000 ft in October was neutralized by the heat of the sun. It is said that
the Ambassador of Switzerland once visited Khajjiyar and named it Mini Switzerland. Having spent about 8 weeks in Switzerland I think Khajjiyar (as also Kashmir) has a raw natural beauty which one finds but rarely in Switzerland.

After spending an hour or two we were back on the bus for the treacherous journey to Chamba.

DALHOUSIE


we would have been hard put to
Beautiful forests in the background
bear the weather.


Add caption
Situated on and around five hills, it has beautiful walks that offer spectacular views. A road that is most frequented is the one that makes the figure ‘8’ going round two hills. That is where one finds conifers in thick and dense growth. After a good and long walk it was pleasure to sit out on the side of the road in front of a tea/coffee shop. The place was run by, presumably, an Anglo-Indian who had maintained the ambiance of good looking joint you find in Europe. He made delicious Darjeeling tea that went down well with home-made pastries.


Dalhousie appeared to me to have retained till then the old colonial flavour. It was a very attractive town. Now, one understands, there are 600 hotels and home-stays to cater to the hordes that assemble there. Good that we made it to Dalhousie when it was still nice and quiet.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Destinations :: Himachal Pradesh (2) :: Chail (1977)

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A view from Patiala Palace grounds

After a few very pleasant days at Kasauli we moved out for Chail. The idea was to catch a bus from Dharampur, a small town at the foot of the Kasauli Hills. A look at the bus that arrived made me think of other alternatives. Luckily, a taxi was passing by. I hailed it and the
In front of the Forest Rest House
man agreed to go and drop us at Chail. He, however, asked for a sum that I found astronomical for a distance of about 50-odd kilometers. I had not budgeted for such an amount. Yet I thought might as well take the plunge, as it were, and we piled into it with our baggage. In those days there were no backpacks and strolleys. We had to travel
From the Palace grounds
not light but heavy with regular suit cases.

From Solan (or was it Kanda Ghat?) the climb, though short, was very steep. Kasauli and Chail were almost at similar elevation but Chail was higher. The climb was difficult and the Ambassador taxi started groaning as it struggled to go up. I was sure the vehicle was not in the best of conditions. Taxi owners seldom spend money for proper upkeep. Thankfully we were dropped at the
At Chail , sitting on a parapet next to a highway
Forest Rest House where we had reservation. It was a lovely place and we were among the pines on top of what was perhaps a fairly big forest training institute. The room had lots of windows and would let in sun and breeze through the conifers. It was summer but not hot at all, and one did not need woolens either.

Another view from the Palace grounds
Chail came into prominence after the Maharaja of Patiala was banned from Simla because of an incident that took place at what is known as Scandal Point. As the story goes Maharaja Bhupender Singh of Patiala eloped with the daughter of the Viceroy in 1892 because of which he was banished from Simla by the British. Peeved by British action he built up Chail as an alternative and also had the highest cricket field in the world laid there. We had managed to walk up to it – all of the 6 kms. of the climb. One gets a fascinating view of the surrounding mountains from there. I am not sure whether cricket is played there these days.

The Maharaja built up a Palace of immense proportions set in approximately 75 acres. Its ambience is royal in every respect and presents spectacular views. We would have quiet walks in it extensive and beautifully laid out grounds. Today the palace has
Catching up with news after aalu-ka-partha
been converted into a hotel for common folk to explore and experience the way of life of the maharajas of the bygone days.

One must mention the Himachali “aalu ka paratha” that used to be available near the bus stand. It is the famous pancake of Himachal with stuffing of potatoes. We used to go a kilometer or so every day to experience it with the Himachali pickles and curd. That’s where we could update ourselves on all that was happening in the world as that’s where fresh newspapers would be available. Sitting on the parapet on the roadside that was mostly devoid of traffic we used to get the news while chewing on the delicious parathas.

Dense forest next to the Forest Rest House
Spending almost a very pleasant week we moved on to Simla where we had reservations in a hotel. It was the peak of tourist season and crowds were maddening on the Upper and Lower Malls. It appeared to us that it was no place for a holiday. Apart from tourists, the place was so closely built up that, it seemed, many houses would not get enough of fresh air. We thought we would be better off in our Chandigarh house, and, disappointed as we were, the next day we took a taxi and came back. We have never been to Simla after that.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Destination :: Himachal Prasedh - Kasauli (1977)

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Christ Church, Kasauli
While posted at Chandigarh I was specially enamoured of the hills up in the North.  During the visits to the then centre of the town, Sector 17, I used to wistfully look at the Himalayan range of Dhaula Dhar. On a clear day, and Chandigarh days were mostly clear with bright sunshine and turquoise skies, the range would be clearly visible with snows clinging to its tops. A fascinating site! As luck would have it, I could never get close enough to the Dhaula Dhar.

The year 1977 was a good year when my newly-acquired wife and I forayed into the Himachal. The first trip had to be Kasauli – a place one could see on the top of the Shivaliks and close to Chandigarh. I had heard of Kasauli from my father who had been there to admit one of his ailing junior
Wife Bandana on the Upper Mall, Kaszuli 
colleagues in the TB sanatorium that the place was famous for. Sanatoria, with a lot of greenery and located away from urban concentrations, was where patients of tuberculosis used to be taken to before Alexander Fleming came on the scene with his peniciline. What the patients needed was a clean and clear air not to congest the lungs further. In those days it was practically waiting it out for death in healthy environs. Maharaja of Gwalior had a bed in the Sanatorium for his people and my father took his colleague after the bed was allotted to him. The Sanatorium was still there when we visited Kasauli but not
Mankey Point, Kasauli
so much as a refuge for tubercular patients.

An old family friend, who has, unfortunately, passed on, from our Gwalior days was also insisting on a visit. He was a Deputy Director in the Central Research Institute located there which, I understand, has since been closed.. He had a house on the Upper Mall, a good pleasant walk away past the summer floral blooms on the two sides of the road. We had a very happy time with him. A very happy and lively man who used to be a very good sportsman in his college days, he had cultivated the same happiness and liveliness in his wife and three lovely children.

Christ Church, Simla
Kasauli looked every inch a colonial town. It was established by the British in the first half of the 19th Century. The place traces its origin, once again, to the British efforts to stall the progress of Gurkhas. In the process they established a garrison here. Nonetheless, it must be said that they had a knack for discovering beautiful places in the midst of nature with pleasant climate for colonization. The town, small as it was, grew around for the satisfaction of the needs of the cantonment that was established there. Once the Gurkha pressure was eased and the rebels of the 1857 War of Independence had been tamed the place remained as a sanatorium-cantonment – quiet and peaceful. The peace and quietude prevails till today along with seasonal floral blooms.

Today it is a resort for tourists, especially those who do not wish to be jostled around by the summer crowd in Simla on its Mall. Kasauli had at that time nice peaceful walks on its Malls with pines, oaks as also chestnuts whispering right through. One of
On the Upper Mall
the finest walks probably in the entire state one had the added pleasure of walking in the midst of blooms. We used to walk up on to the Mankey Point from where one gets a fair view of the Punjab plains spread out below. The place was around that time given away to the Indian Air Force to install their radars for early warnings about air raids from across the Western borders.


Down below in the town were the quaint shops selling nick knacks for the benefit of the tourists. The town square is dominated by the 150 years old Christ Church clock tower which had since stopped chiming. It was restored by the Army only in 2015. A nice small place with pleasant weather and lots of flowers –  good for a quiet sojourn!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Modi goes for broke after illegitimate wealth

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Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s demonetization of high value currency notes has exposed the rather large and bloated underbelly of our society. The shenanigans of this section of Indians in the background of the demonetization put us to shame in front of the world which has been watching the developments in the country with interest. Every country, as indeed every Indian, is aware of how our economy has had to contend with a parallel economy of formidable proportions. But its ramifications as they unfolded made most of us wonder whether most of us were crooks and had no patriotic feelings.

As Modi’s surprise announcement about demonetisation was made late in the evening around 8.30 PM on the 8th November last one thought people would take it easy and look for ways out to get most of their unaccounted cash, if any, disposed of some way or the other next day but mostly in a regular manner. One thought the demonetization would not yield much as an opportunity had already been given to all the cash hoarders to declare their holdings on payment of minimal tax, penalty and surcharge amounting to a total of 45% under the Income Disclosure Scheme 2016 (IDS) that was run for as many as three months from 1st June to 30th September 2016. The Scheme yielded more than Rs. 65000 crore (Rs. 650 billion, around $95 billon), by itself an astronomical sum. But for the size of the unaccounted wealth estimated to be a mindboggling sum of around 9 lakh crore (Rs. 90000 billion, approximately $1500 billion) this was considered chicken feed. And as the prime minister had warned earlier that further action would follow if the outcome of the IDS was not satisfactory action to further squeeze out unaccounted cash was expected.

As the high value currency notes of Rs. 500/- and Rs. 1000/- were to cease to be legal tender by the midnight of 8th November the hoarders tried most of the tricks that they could possibly use. They made a beeline that very night for the jewellers and unloaded the cash there and were prepared to get in return whatever was offered. The shopping hours, at least for jewellers, got extended and the business during those hours was reported to be of Rs. 100 crores in Bhopal alone. Many of the jewellers are going to have to answer for their indiscretions in course of time. Apart from buying jewellery the hoarders tried to buy railway tickets to be cancelled later. Enormous number of railways tickets for all air-conditioned classes were bought with the intention of cancelling them eventually. The government had to block that route of changing the colour of the ill-gotten money. That Indian attribute of “jugaad” was in full play.

From the 9th November onwards the black money barons put all their human resources for exchanging their black cash at the bank counters. That the exchanged amount would only be of a paltry Rs. 4000/- (later raised to 4500/- and eventually reduced to Rs. 2000/-) did not really matter. Initially only the same representative was asked to join the queue in a bank over and over again with different IDs. When the authorities intervened to check this ploy multiple representatives were mobilized to exchange the cash at different locations. For all their labours the representatives got a petty commission but they were clogging the banks to the detriment of genuine exchangers whose wait at the banks was avoidably lengthened.

The authorities were apparently watching the proceedings with a keen eye. When it was realized that the same set of men were exchanging cash at different times in the same bank or at different banks they introduced the marking of the fingers of the representatives with indelible ink that is generally used during elections. As even then some misuse of the facility was noticed the authorities reduced the amount dispensed for exchange to only Rs. 2000/-. Ingenious as all crooks are, even this they tried to circumvent. Then the practice of exchanging only in the branch where the depositor had his account was introduced to further bar the hoarders from attempts to launder their money.

 It has been a very difficult and strenuous time for people all over the country. As somebody remarked, the entire country was seemingly waiting in long, serpentine queues to exchange their defunct cash in order to run their households, businesses or whatever. Here too the hoarders who are nothing but anti-socials increased the pain of the general public by sending their hired hands. Some deaths occurred of people while waiting in queues.

Likewise, it has been a tough time for the bankers. A few deaths took place in banks too due to over-strain. Nonetheless, they did a tremendous job. Not only did they have to contend with long line of money exchangers, they had to deal with enormous amounts of cash which in many cases were mixed with fake Indian currency. The fake ones, especially those printed in Pakistan, are difficult to detect. Pakistan had made special efforts to set up a press that was capable of introducing almost the same security features as are used in this country. The Bank staff had, therefore, to be careful, keeping a sharp eye while receiving cash that was tendered over the counter. It was kind of a game of matching of wits virtually at every step and checkmating the fraudsters and frustrating their pernicious efforts to 
cheat the government.

Not only did they try to recover whatever was possible from their piles of cash that had become trash, they even tried to save themselves from the arms of the law. They not only burned them, they also dumped in rivers and drains huge numbers of currency notes of high denominations that they were left holding in their offices, business sites or residences. A whole truck-load of currency was reported to have been set fire to. The rot has seeped in so deep that a large number of seizures were made in small towns from Gujarat to Bihar and from Punjab to Tamil Nadu. Many seizures were effected while the cash was being transported by these crooks to places that they thought were convenient for their illicit purposes. On the plus side, the local bodies and the utilities have had a windfall. All outstanding payments have been paid off, including some in advance, to fatten their always-starving finances. Likewise temples too have had so much cash showered on them that some of them have had to hire extra hands to count the piles of cash.  

 No reports of our “netas” (political leaders), the repositories of substantial amounts of black money, have, however, surfaced so far except one from Bhopal where it was reported that they were browbeating cooperative banks to provide them with back-dated FDRs. Cooperative banks still operate manually and the records can be easily fudged

But the unscrupulous man in business or industry is, kind of, never-say-die person. He would never give up and come clean and surrender. Hence, only a small proportion of dirty cash is likely to be exposed and brought overground. A lot will remain underground as liquid cash. A far greater proportion has been invested in fixed assets like land, real estate, etc. But Prime Minister Modi is not going to relent; he is going for broke after the cheats and the unscrupulous. Already, raids have been conducted on jewellers – their shops and residences – and he has announced a drive against “benami” property, i.e. property held against the name of a fictitious person where most of the black money has been invested.

If not anything else, the proceedings in this regard show how rich the country is, only the riches have been cornered by a few crooks. It has always been rich but ordinary people could never enjoy its wealth. The Mughal raiders, the Europeans, the British and now the crooked politician, bureaucrats and businessmen have looted it. It is only Modi who has taken this step knowing full-well it might electorally backfire on him.

*Photo from internet


21st November 2016

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Our life our times :: 4 :: Air purifiers

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The national capital of India, Delhi, has been choking ever since the Diwali fireworks fouled up the air. That looked like a trigger, which in fact it was not, for the continuing spell of intense air pollution. With a blanket of smog settling down over Delhi schools have been shut, construction and demolition works have been banned, polluting power plants like the one at Badarpur have been closed for ten days. “The city has turned into a gas chamber”, that is how Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, described the situation. I spoke to an 87 years old very old friend to inquire how he was doing. He reported that he and his 80 years old wife had sealed themselves in their second storey flat with doors and windows shut. One cannot move out even to buy the necessities. Even the warmth of the mellow winter sun that they used to enjoy in the approaching cold weather sitting out in an ill-kempt park, too,  has been denied to them. It is a horrid situation – an abominable turn of events during the season of festivities, flowers and fun and frolics. Children are suffering the most. For them there is no school, no fun and games and, what’s more, they cannot go out in the open and play. If they get out they have to wear a mask – a necessary encumbrance.
In such a circumstance, no wonder people would look for means to ameliorate their condition. In the process,s people are increasingly turning to technological assistance. Science has handed over to humans a very potent appliance in the shape of technology that can be used for satisfying various kinds of needs – from basic to the most sophisticated. Most being aware of them, it is not necessary to go through all the developments in the matter. What is something new in India, however, is the air purifier that is not all that well known. If one looks for it in the internet one would come across numerous brands with various specifications and several claims for the machines’ versatility.

This is the machine age and one cannot really live comfortably without their help. With economic progress even the middle classes in their tiered differentiations have acquired air-conditioners that control the hot or cold weathers within the confines of one’s living or bed rooms or even large halls. With cut-throat competition and proliferation of manufacturers to meet the rising demands the prices have fallen making them affordable for those who never could entertain a thought of acquiring one a few years ago.

It seems it is now the turn of air purifiers. Now, with frightfully toxic ambient air people are getting more and more inclined to buy air purifiers. One of the first of them was perhaps installed by the US Embassy in the capital. Progressively, as the air quality deteriorates even during the seasons when it is expected to be normal or slightly worse air purifiers provide an alternative to treat the pollution in the air. They do filter out the harmful particulate matters (PM 2.5 and PM 10), protect people from taking in foul air which has all the potential to seriously damage their health. But installing it at home will protect one only for a period of 12 hours or so. When one is out and away from it one remains exposed to the pollution.

Apart from dealing with very harmful PM 2.5 and PM 10 these contraptions also help in keeping out the allergens helping to make those comfortable who suffer from allergy or those who are asthmatic. Besides, they extend protection from dust, pollen, pet dander, mites and their faeces, etc. Regardless of their benefits, Indian households never perhaps ever contemplated to buy such a machine that rendered only limited assistance. But with heavily toxic air that has settled down over Delhi people are turning to these machines that are, unfortunately, of limited use. Besides, the other disadvantage is that these machines run on dirty energy, rising consumption of which exacerbates the pollution caused by coal-fired thermal power plants. It is a great irony; it is we who create polluted air  by our own indiscrete activities and then we have to have machines to filter it.

The whole sordid thing started with Diwali. With the pollution base already high the fireworks made it worse.  Delhi air is not free of pollutants even at the best of times. Diwali made it worse, as it does virtually every year. And, yet people do not draw a lesson. But the fillip to the deteriorating quality of air was given by the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. For want of cheap labour that they used to get from Bihar they switched over to harvesters for reaping their paddy crop that, unfortunately, do not harvest as the humans do; they leave a fairly tall stubble. That stubble reportedly is of no use and hence it is set fire to. The burning of the remnants of the paddy crop in the three states has raised the smoke that engulfs the entire region, the urban concentrations including the megapolis of Delhi. That and the usual sources like smoke from thermal power plants and incoming dust from the desert region in the west compound the problem.

People are having a terrible time. United Nations has come out with a warning that the record pollution levels of 999 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre is more than 15 to 16 times more than what is considered safe. PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulate matters, both clocked 16 times more than what is safe. The air has become toxic and with every breath adults and children are inhaling poison which can eventually cause the dreaded disease of cancer.

Air purifiers or wearing masks when out in the open are short term preventive measures – like palliatives. A more fundamental approach to cut down on the source of pollution is urgently needed. Already number of deaths due to air pollution in the country is climbing rapidly and has risen to more than a million and has overtaken China.

 It cannot be that the paddy stubble is absolutely useless. After all, it is an organic matter and has to have carbon as one of its components. No wonder, Nitin Gadkari, a central minister has suggested production of bio-fuel from it. This will eliminate the smoke and also be profitable to the farmers. Such plants need to be commissioned as soon as possible all over Punjab, Haryana and Western UP. Fireworks in Delhi need to be banned regardless of the fact that it is a demand of spring festivities or weddings or whatever. Public transport needs to be strengthened to reduce the dependence on personal vehicles. Delhi reportedly has 6,000,000 vehicles of all kinds – commercial, private, four wheelers, three wheelers and two wheelers of varied ages emitting into the Delhi atmosphere gases that are poisonous.  Promotion of electric battery operated vehicles seems to be the need of the hour. And, Delhi should go for an all out campaign for solar energy. All government establishments, their extensive terraces, the stadiums and their open spaces, the parking lots etc. can be used for installation of solar panels.

All this needs to be done on war-footing; there is not a day to lose as numerous lives are being damaged and lost to this Frankensteinian monster.

*Photo from internet
15th November 2016


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 43 :: THE FOULED UP LAKE

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Its waters are dangerous to touch and risky to drink


Now it is official; the waters of the Upper Lake are not fit for bathing or even sipping – a ritual that is called “achaman” observed by Hindus after their prayers. The Locally based Pollution Control Board issued a warning for the people who were to perform their rituals on the banks of the Lake on the occasion of Chhath Puja that was to take place last Sunday. The Chhath festival is dedicated to the Sun and his consort Usha to thank them for the bounties bestowed on people. Celebrated generally by people of Bihar, it has now almost become a national festival as the Bihari Diaspora is present virtually in all states.


The Pollution Control Board said while exposure of the skin to the waters could cause skin diseases, especially eczema, ingesting it would be more dangerous as the e-coli count is almost double the level far higher than what can be tolerated by normal humans. This had to happen as the powers that be, including those in the Department of Environment and the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, have never bothered to divert sewage and other pollutants that make their way to the Lake through as many as nine drains. They have had project after project but the situation has not changed. Perhaps the conditions have worsened. No wonder the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) has predicted if action is not taken on its plans for the Lake submitted as far as back as in 2013 the Lake most likely would disappear in 20 years.


On the one hand the Tourism Development Corporation has, seemingly, acquired proprietary rights over it and pushing projects one after another without any regard to their impact on the Lake. While the Boat Club has become the hub for people to come and collect in large numbers, boating has gone up exponentially. One shudders to see so many motorised boats plying on the Lake that is a source of drinking water. In no civilized country a drinking water source is used in such a casual manner as in Bhopal. The Tourism Corporation may have improved its own bottom line by putting motor boats in the waters of the Lake in contravention of the prevailing ban but it has brought the Lake into red. There are other lakes like those at Shahpura or the Lower Lake where the motor-boating could be diverted but no, every activity has to be undertaken at the Upper Lake This is not counting the Sair Sapata, the huge amusement park that has come in Prempura, again, on the banks of the Lake The outfit was bad in concept and has been bad in its effect on the Lake. As is understood, the CEPT has recommended in its report a shift for the tourism unit from its present location.


While the MP State Tourism Department has played havoc with the Upper Lake the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, supposedly its custodian, has played no mean role in its progressive degradation. It has been attempting everything to improve its appearance by way of cosmetic changes but it has never formulated a project to block the nine drains that bring millions of litres of sewage into the Lake. The responsibility of maintaining a reasonable water quality is that of the Corporation and the obligation of supplying water to the consumers is also of the local body. That, in effect, results in the local body supplying poison to the citizens of the town who get the Lake waters from the Corporation pipe lines. Nobody seems to be bothered – neither the Municipal Corporation nor the state government – the losers in the process are the people. What is not even funny is that every instrument of the state is in place with all the necessary kinds of resources and yet it is the people who get the rawest of deals.

In addition, the farmers in its catchments that fall in the neighbouring district are not bothered about the effects of their chemical farming on the Lake. They merrily use chemical fertilisers and pesticides remanants of which flow into the Lake polluting it further. While the government has created an organic farming zone, it never considered the catchments of this Lake for converting into an organic farming zone. This was taken up years ago with the government by the Bhopal Citizens' Forum but to no avail. 


One wonders whether the authorities in the government or in the Corporation will take the findings of the local Pollution Control Board seriously enough and initiate remedial measure in double quick time. None can, however, be sure as we have observed utmost indifference to the water body despite claiming it as the identity of the city. The latest in this chain is the governments’ unshakable perch on the CEPT report that promised improved days (and water) for the Lake