Friday, June 24, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 32 :: Uncivil Khanugaon

The uncivil and crude behavior of the residents of Khanugaon with the members of the Citizens’ Forum was nothing but reprehensible. They not only were rude they also intimidated the few members who had gone to check the site so as to protest against the now-stopped construction of a retaining wall within the Upper Lake. If the residents thought they had the right to protect their residences the members of the Forum too had the right protest of against an ill-advised construction of the retaining wall that has been the subject of almost daily discourse in the vernacular newspapers. Condemnation of the action of the Municipal Corporation has been pouring forth from several quarters. On 22nd instant Ms Savita Raje, Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture & Planning has said that the so-called retaining wall was going to slowly poison the Lake by destroying its ecology.
Here lies the nub; that is precisely what the problem is. How many people in Khanugaon and even their councillor know the meaning of ecology of a lake? Most of them have not heard of the word and even if they had come across it they wouldn’t have cared to find out its meaning. Since they do not know about it, they are bothered about only their residences which, in all probability are illegal encroachments and, according to them, needed to be protected from being flooded for which the retaining wall would be useful. Ignorance and preservation of personal property, even if it is illegally acquired, propelled them to behave aggressively with members of Citizens’ Forum who seemed to have behaved exemplarily in the face of outright intimidation and grave provocation. That an FIR was not lodged against the intimidators or at least against the Councillor is indicative of decency of the Forum.
However, the point I want to make is mass scale ignorance regarding conservation of the “environment” is the biggest obstacle for its conservation. How can people who are used to open defecation or spitting or littering in public places be expected to know about environment and its conservation? This is what obtains after the biggest environmental disaster that the city witnessed only three decades back. Our education system is such that there is hardly any emphasis on making children, adolescents and adults aware of “environment” and inculcation in them of habits towards its conservation. If the masses are ignorant how the natural assets of the city constituting its environment can be conserved? The residents of Khanugaon think if the municipality is building the retaining wall it would protect their houses. It serves their interests. They are not concerned about what happens to the Lake. For them it could as we ll go to hell and so, they felt who were the Forum people to protest against it? That’s precisely what they reportedly said. This is one aspect that one has to emphsise and the Forum needs to ponder about it. It is for the government to educate them properly on the subject, but will it?
Another issue would seem to be the attitude of the Khanugaon councillor. True, he is the elected representative of the people of Khanugaon in the municipal corporation but he cannot overlook his commitment to the larger interests of the city. He can go ahead and please his constituents but he is one in the elected body the very purpose of which is to take care of the city in its entirety and its physical assets. He is expected to protect the interests of the city as against the narrow and restricted interests of his constituents. Protection and conservation of the Lake should also be one of his main concerns, situated as his constituency is on its shores. But, the question again arises is whether he is aware of his charge and also aware of the reasons for conservation of the Lake. In all probability, no; he too is ignorant having had only rudimentary education. In such a situation how can one expect him to be rational and see the matter in its real perspective.
What was, however, worse he apparently adopted intimidatory tactics and advised the members of the Citizens’ Forum not to repeat their visit to Khanugaon thereby meaning that they could come to harm if they did so. He is quite possibly a bad specimen of councillors forgetting that everyone had the right and liberty of free movements within the city and elsewhere. No amount of muscle power could take away or abridge that right. But the question again is how can such a ignorant and crude person represent the interests of the citizens? It is so unfortunate! No wonder the city is in such a bad shape. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about it; it is, after all, a democratized local body in which mostly ambitious, unscrupulous, half-lettered people get elected, perhaps as a municipal official once said, only to make money.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 31 :: Only people will save Bhopal's environment

The other day at the Late MN Buch Memorial Lecture when the guest speaker Pradip Krishan, the environmentalist, was taking questions from the audience subsequent to his very interesting talk a member of the audience fired a question at the Chief Secretary who presided over the function. The question was about chopping down of trees under the directions of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The Chief Secretary was asked whether the plan to build plush quarters for MLAs had been given up. The CS said he had been informed by the Speaker that the plan had been shelved and, he said, one should take that as final. Apparently, the plan has not been given up, it has only been shelved and may get revived at an opportune moment.

Either the speaker, Dr. Sita Saran Sharma, is dim-witted or he has not been quite truthful. After having slaughtered a thousand trees he said that he had given orders to stop the process of chopping down 9000 more trees in view of the strong resentment of the people. The trees were reportedly surreptitiously cut down and when it was flashed in the print media people in the government sat up. Chief Minister is reported to have spoken to the speaker. In all probability the latter got a mouthful and was asked to stop the whole thing. The speaker had no alternative but to stop further felling of trees and, as a face-saver, said he had taken the action in view of the "jan bhavana", public sentiments. As if he did not know about the "jan bhavana" which was so strongly expressed only two weeks ago that the chief minister had to shift the location of the proposed “smart city” approved by the Centre from the tree covered Shivajinaar and Tulsinagar areas.

This is not the first time that the proposal to build residences for the honourable members was shot down. Earlier a similar plan to cut down a large number of trees near the existing well-spread out colony of the members had to be given up because of public resistance. This time the plan was changed and an area behind the Assembly building on Arera Hills was chosen. However, this time everything seems to have been done by stealth so much so that even the watchful media didn't get wind of it. Even though the detailed project report was not ready what they did was to have thousand-odd trees cut down. This is what happens every time. Whether the project is ready or not trees are the ones which face the axe immediately.

June 5 was Environment Day and as usual the chief minister mouthed his hypocritical commitments for conservation of the environment. His government is perhaps the worst in so far as environmental conservation is concerned. All the time there is an assault on environment. If this happens even in Bhopal where people, media and NGOs are so watchful, one shudders to imagine the conditions elsewhere in the state from where resistance, if any, will come off a whole lot muted. Reports keep appearing in the press of illegal felling of trees at various places in the state.

Here in Bhopal trees are felled at any and every pretext so much so that green cover that was once 92% has come down to 22% in a matter of a few decades and soon it may touch a measly 11% in a year or two. Encroachments and constructions on the periphery and catchment area of the Bhoj Wetland, the lifeline of the city, continue unhindered. The report submitted by the Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad for conservation of the Lake was submitted two years ago. No decision has been taken on it as it does not suit the government and the builders’ lobby. The report is stated to be under examination by the government. If they take years to study a report without coming to any conclusion, they might as well give up on appointing consultants. The Citizens’ Forum and others had to approach the National Green Tribunal in order to force the government to release the report.

 Greatest damage has been done to the Lake during the tenure of this government. If the government continues in the same vein in so far as the Upper Lake is concerned we might as well say good bye to it. Concerted efforts are being made to make use of the land in the catchments of the Lake where no constructions are allowed but encroachments reportedly are all the time taking place.

 And the fire at Khanti, the city's landfill, continues to rage impairing the health and well-being of those who live and work aound it. The city' air is becoming as foul as that of Delhi but no steps have been taken for mitigation of air pollution. I have on numerous occasions seen the vans for checking vehicular emissions waiting forlornly for custom. There is no compulsion on vehicle owners to have their emissions checked. Besides, while recently bought vehicle are generally checked auto rickshaws and trucks or delivery vans that emit most of the smoke are never seen around these vans. All these seem to be minor matters for the government for which conducting of Simhastha Mela and, later, elections to the Rajya Sabha were of greater importance. There is such a lack of governance.

It has now come down to one rather uncomfortable fact and that it depends on the people to make the government to move and act. By itself it seems to be unable to take any decision acceptable to the people. I remember that few years ago when some of us members of the Citizens’ Forum met the Chief Minister he had told us that as long as he was there he would not allow anything adverse happening to the Lake. But now it is his own government seems to be hell-bent on destroying it.

 Clearly collectively people, the media and other social groups will have to be very very watchful for proper conservation of the city’s environment.

*Photo from the internet

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Corruption prevents India becoming "Sone ki Chidia" again

Rummaging through my collection of newspaper clippings I came across one that was of a fairly recent origin. Its sub-head said corruption remains major barrier to growth in India. This earth-shattering finding was made by as unlikely an organization as the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss non-profit based near Geneva. Its mission is supposed to be "... improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas".

What the Forum has unearthed has always been known to most of us although, perhaps, we could never pin point the extent of corruption in the country. The Forum has indicated that in more or less specific terms in its report titled “Building Foundation for Transparency” under its Partnership Against Corruption Initiative. Choosing to look into the sectors of real estate and infrastructure its investigators were told by the Indian protagonists that under the prevailing ‘system’ the bribes paid could be considerable and could account for as much as 50% of the project cost or even more. The prevailing system meant ambiguous norms for change of land use, dodgy land records and the need for multiple clearances and these reasons compel the project developers to pay speed money, presumably, to several individuals and/or outfits. Besides, one could safely presume, rules regarding change in land use are deliberately kept ambiguous to dole out favours by those in authority to big and influential project developers in exchange of big money. These findings, the Forum felt, have “strong implications for the competitiveness of the Indian markets”.

The Forum has used the hammer rather lightly and probably preferred to look away from the reality. That almost all the state governments in India are driven by the real estate and construction lobbies is an established fact. Even the prestigious magazine The Economist had once occasion to remark that state governments in India are more likely to be sold to these lobbies either because of the demands of the political parties in power or the politicians’ own venality. Real estate developers and infrastructure contractors are the ones who are really fat cats and buy off the ministers with their financial muscle. State governments are literally led by their nose and the proof prevails in big bold relief in almost all the cities. Forgetting all the environmental or civic norms, buildings or complexes come up with or without the necessary approvals. What if a project is not approved; money can buy the approval at a later date. Buildings, roads, drainage, dams and almost everything infrastructural are all of poor quality as these thickly line the pockets of officials, bureaucrats and politicians – the thickness of the lining being determined by the station of the recipient in the government. This has been the standard practice since the British days but has assumed huge proportions post-independence as those at the helm have been participating in the game with increasingly greater enthusiasm. The padding of 50% or more has perhaps been forced on the project executor because of the prevailing utter lack of ethical behaviour all over.

Findings of WEF apart, the country’s own Minister of Defence recently had occasion to state in an interview that the VVIP choppers that were procured from AugustaWestland during UPA rule at Rs.300 crores apiece should not have cost more than Rs.150 or 160 crores each. He said kickbacks paid to various people doubled the price of the choppers. All those reported to be mired in the scandal include the security establishment at the highest levels, bureaucrats, a number of Air Force officials including its Air Chief Marshal and a number of politicians including, reportedly, the then ruling party chief. An elaborate charade was played out to bring the AugustaWestland helicopters within reckoning. These were meant for the VVIPs to be flown to high altitude military posts. Even the parameters for the purpose earlier determined for selection were revised to bring in the AugustaWestland helicopters in the field for consideration. And even the test flight that was taken was reported to have been of a different helicopter in a different country- not on the heights of India.

Ever since independence there have been numerous scandals involving defence deals. The corrupt deal of buying jeeps in 1948, though trifling in comparison to the mind-boggling ones of current times, short-changed the Indian Army by as many as 45 jeeps as only 155 were received against 200 for which payment had been made. Only Rs. 18 lakh were eaten up. While Krishna Menon, the main culprit, was made a minister, the prime mister brushed the matter under the carpet. Since then, however, numerous magnum-sized defence deals were negotiated and billions of rupees were eaten up by unscrupulous politicians, bureaucrats, officials and middlemen which could have bought thousands of jeeps, howitzers fighter planes and VVIP choppers.  

Why defense, every sphere in governance is infested with corruption. From allocation of coal mines to allocation of telecom spectrum, from holding the Commonwealth Games to even granting approval for opening of medical colleges, every sector of the government has somehow failed to remain untouched by corruption. At the central level the corrupt practices are fewer but the states are dens of corruption. So many chief ministers and other ministers have been caught with their hands in the till. In Bihar a former chief minister literally looted the state treasury as he allowed fraudulent payments from it for cattle-feed for personal gains. There are rackets galore and politicians and officials of the states make merry.

The moral and ethical standards have plummeted so low that every government servant, high or low, wants to be a crorepati (billionaire). There have been cases where the employees of the lowest ranks have been found to have stashed away a billion or more. An aspiring society apparently is trying to satisfy its aspirations mostly by immoral and corrupt means and making no bones about it. If the entire governmental structure is predominantly corrupt can the country ever prosper? Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister, may try his best but the progress, if at all, will be at snail’s pace – especially because of the states that will drag him down.

Once upon a time India was known as “Sone ki chidia”, a “golden sparrow”, because of its immense riches. Ancient India seemed to have had prosperous trade with the countries in West and South-East Asia. There was intense interaction with the peoples of its trading partners. Foreigners are reported to have wondered at the gold on temples and on bodies of women. The riches attracted invaders to come to pillage and plunder. Even Lord Clive was astounded to see the riches of Murshidabad in Bengal which was at that time richer than even London. Mark Twain too was stunned by the “land of dreams and romance, fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels...”that was India

Whether Muslims or British, they all came and looted the country and took away its wealth. Now that the foreigners are gone, it is our “netas”(politicians) who are doing the same. Trillions of rupees have been siphoned off by them since independence in collaboration with their partners in crime. But for them and their nefarious gangs, the country could have quite possibly regained by now the sobriquet of “Sone ki Chidia”.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Destinations :: Versailles (1987)

A piece of sculpture with the Palace in the background
Only about 10 Kilometres from Paris is located Versailles about which we had read in History and Political Science books. Its Palace hosted quite a few peace conferences during the preceding centuries. The most important was perhaps the Treaty of Versailles after the conclusion of World War I about a hundred years ago.
Beginning as a hunting lodge for the French monarch Louis XIII it
A view of one of the gardens
graduated into an opulent palace from where the royal functions of French monarchy used to be discharged. Yes, it used to be the capital of France during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI, the last, however, couldn’t complete his reign as he was overtaken by the revolutionary forces and was hauled out of Versailles and housed in the Tuileries Palace in Paris only to be charge for treason and guillotined in 1793. A few months later his queen Marie Antoinette, too, was executed. Revolutionaries can be pretty cruel and hateful. The Palace has since then lost all the importance apart from being a site for tourists whose heavy footfalls keeps the neighbouring town happy. The Palace, called the Chateau de
An equestrian statue somewhere on the Palace grounds
Versailles is also used whenever the French Congress – the National Assembly and the Senate – have to meet to amend the Constitution.

From the books on my home town Gwalior in central India I understood that the town’s Jai Vilas Palace was built on the pattern of the Palace of Versailles. It seems the then ruling Prince Jayajirao Scindia had sent one of his sardars (minister), Sir Michel Filose, to see the palaces around the world and then build one for him. It was then said that the palace that eventually Filose built and equipped for occupation in 1873 named as Jay Vilas was patterned on the Versailles Palace. May be the opulence of the Darbar Hall with glass, mirror, two huge chandeliers and the gilding was an attempted copy of the famous Hall of Mirrors of the Versailles Palace. Otherwise from outside Jai Vilas looks more like
Another view of the garden with mywife Bandana in the foreground
Buckingham Palace, perhaps even slightly better.

Having been built over centuries. Every king who resided here added to what was built by King Louis XIV. It was impossible to go over everything because of the massiveness of the place and hence the concentration was on the Hall of Mirrors and the gardens where beautiful sculptures were aesthetically placed. I regret for not being able to take any photograph of the Hall of Mirrors as there were far too many
The family and the Palace building s in the background
people jostling in there. Besides, it was a sultry day. The heat and thejostling crowd made it quite uncomfortable. Honestly speaking, the whole thing was nothing new as we had had occasion to see numerous old palaces. The personal apartments of the king and the queen were certainly richly done up and, of course, one couldn’t probably find better French furniture elsewhere. They were just exquisite.

The gardens of the Palace cover approximately 800 hectares and
The garden and the fountains
they are said to be the most visited sites in France. The gardens are huge and have beautifully patterned hedges in different designs. Beautifully manicured lawns and the flower beds laid in various styles, the sculpture and the fountains make them captivating. Once out in the gardens one could see the vastness of the place. The forests on the fringes make them even more beautiful. Having been to quite a few royal gardens during our trip through Europe I, having no expertise in horticulture, found this one to be aesthetically the best.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 30 ::City of filthy lakes

With the problem of smart city behind us, we will have to concentrate on other vital issues of citizens. However, we cannot consider ourselves absolutely free from the problems that may crop up at the new site of the smart city. Here, too, there are reported to be more than a thousand trees. These cannot be allowed to be cut down unless absolutely necessary, with emphasis on “absolutely”. People will have to see how many of them can be saved. If I recall, there are trees that are huge and, apparently, pretty old. These cannot be sacrificed at the altar of the smart city. Perhaps, another battle in this regard is awaiting us; the powder has to be kept dry.

One major nagging issue of concern is the Upper Lake and its proper upkeep. The custodian of the Upper Lake, Bhopal Municipal Corporation has been rather self-willed and, shall we say, mischievous. Despite the orders of the National Green Tribunal it has been tinkering with the Khanugaon-side shore of the Lake. I have myself had occasion to see a wall being erected and some digging along the length of what is known as the View Point. It will be recalled that the Corporation had formulated plans to construct a pedestrian and a cycle track next to the Lake. The Green Tribunal ordered stoppage of the construction.  But the Corporation seems to have been carrying on its activities without let or hindrance, unseen and unchecked by anybody. It is nothing but a mischievous activity.

Besides, the other day the People’s Samachar reported that the Corporation itself is polluting the Lake. It reported that the toilet facilities provided by it at the Boat Club empties its wastes directly into the Lake. This toilet was built because of the absence of one at a place where thousands congregate. A noble idea, but one cannot put up with the toilet emptying itself into the Lake. The question is whether permission of NGT was obtained before construction. And, surprisingly it never occurred to the cell in the Corporation dealing with conservation of the Lake to put its foot down on the proposal.

Thus the Corporation has added another drain to the nine that are emptying into the lake. There is no movement in the Corporation to divert the drains to the sewage recycling plants but it is ever keen to initiate construction work on and around the Lake front. The employees are so greedy; any civil work fetches them some extra (ill-gotten) money. The  newspaper report mentions the findings of the Central Pollution Control Board in which it seems to have been stated that around 24 crore 50 lakh litres of sewage go into the Lake without being treated. Apparently only 40 mld can be treated every day and the rest amounting to 285 mld are getting into the Lake.

The paper reports that under the Bhoj Wetland project four sewage treatment plants were established out of which only one is functional. The rest of the three plants discharge sewage into the Lake without being treated. No proposal to set right the non-functional treatment plants has ever been reported. This is nothing but playing around with the health and well-being of the people who consume the water supplied from the Lake. I had once suggested at the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum meeting that the Corporation should not be allowed to carry out any new civil work, unless specifically asked to by NGT or the government, in and around the Lake until it plans and works to stop flow of sewage into it. Perhaps our representative could put the suggestion across to the NGT at the time of the next hearing in connection with the upkeep of the Lake.

 The other water bodies too in the city are suffering because of the neglect of the municipal body. Several drains empty sewage into even in the Lower Lake. Having failed to stop their flow into the Lake for years on end the Corporation built a laser auditorium on its bank and when it proved to be a loss making proposition it promptly thought of shifting the whole thing to the Boat Club. Curiously, there is no check in the Corporation on its imprudent expenditure and it thus freely wastes public money.

I recall once an ex- municipal commissioner of Bhopal had described the Shahpura Lake as a septic tank. That was years ago and there has hardly been any change in its status since then. It continues to be saturated with sewage. Under the NGT”S directions some measures were taken but all that seems to have lost steam. Now even the Motia Talab seems to have been getting sewage from a source that was not revealed in the news report.

The bare fact is that though the government, the Corporation and all and sundry keep shouting about the lakes that are supposedly the city’s identity they are all, in fact, sewage pits – some big and some small. Shamelessly, they are inviting people to “the City of lakes” which , in fact, is a city of filthy lakes. This has to change and Bhopal Citizens’ Forum can have this change effected.

*Photo from internet

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 29 :: Changing the city's micro-climate


A colony being developed by Bhopal Development Authority
Though the mercury has since come down but the other day it registered a high of 46.7 degrees Celsius in Bhopal. This was reported to be a record high for the town. Never for many years has the temperature been under discussion so much in newspapers as this year, more so in the vernacular ones. The reputed Hindi daily with a very large circulation even cited the reason for the mercury hitting an all time high – the relentless increase in urbanization (shaharikaran).

This is very largely true. Lately the urban sprawl has been spreading in all directions and everyone knows what happens when that happens. Farmlands, forests, even wetlands are gobbled up by the greedy builders. I do not know whether it happens elsewhere but in Bhopal the builders lobby have been allowed a free run all over. One cannot perhaps put the entire blame on the builders as they couldn’t have done what they have done without the back-up of their comrades-in-arms in the government. The builder-bureaucracy-politician nexus is all too well known. And, it has worked remarkably well in Bhopal without any let and hindrance.

But, it seems they over-did their thing. In a meeting at a media house not too long ago a participating politician happened to mention that there were as many as 55000 flats in the city for which there are no takers. Apparently, builders never could imagine a situation where flats would go abegging. They have always dealt with situations when you put up any structure and it would be lapped up. The Awaas Melas would attract huge crowds where people would be looking for a chance to own their ever-elusive dream homes. Unfortunately, the builders never reckoned that the times could change. And, they indeed did - for the worse resulting in built up flats lying unoccupied. Clearly, the builders put their money building huge complexes from where the returns seem to be drying up.
Once I happened to go to a hospital off the Kolar Road and I came across a large number of apartment blocks that appeared to be ready but not occupied. At night almost all the blocks were dark indicating there were no occupants. I was reminded of photographs of a Chinese town sent to me by e-mail by a friend showing a number of clusters of multistoried apartment blocks that were lying vacant. Something like this, perhaps in a smaller scale, seems to have happened in Bhopal. The surplus available with the builders became evident when Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association in India (CREDAI), Bhopal promptly offered two thousand-odd flats of various types to the government to relocate the residents of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar for accommodating the proposed “Smart City”.

China can afford excess capacity (which, in fact, is a waste) because it has a massive $3.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. It fell by more than $500 billion in 2015 and that made news. Ours is hovering around $340 billion and we seem to be pretty happy about it. No wonder, China can access natural resources from elsewhere (including distant continents like Africa and South America) and indulge in excesses like hundreds of high speed trains, Maglevs and so on. We just can’t emulate it.

Excess capacity in housing to a certain limited extent can be tolerated. But, excessive over-capacity has very high environmental costs. It is not only in land with its bio-diversity but also the natural resources that are required in construction. From sand to steel to cement, all have constituents that need to be mined, processed and then used. Take sand for instance. Till recently it was the most inexpensive material used in the business of construction. Today, it has become expensive and, what is more, it is getting scarcer and scarcer. River banks and beds are being denuded of sand, threatening the very flow of water in the rivers. Sand holds water in river beds and it helps in charging the underground aquifers. With uncontrolled sand mining – scrupulous or unscrupulous – many river-side towns have lost their subsoil waters. There was even a call for providing a substitute for sand which, unfortunately, is yet to be found.

The excess capacity in housing can probably be attributed to the failure of the control systems that we have. We have a town and country planning organization and a municipal corporation both of which could have restricted it and the expansion of the town. But, they haven’t and hence the building spree. Quite likely, many colonies on the fringes do not get any of the civic services that the municipality provides. The municipality, in any case, is stretched for human and financial resources which could be the reasons for its ineffectiveness in carrying out its functions. That is increasingly becoming obvious.

Now it seems even the Panchayats (the village councils) too have been given the authority to permit constructions within their respective jurisdictions. But, in all probability, the panchayats do not have the wherewithal to scrutinize each
Another view of a highrise complex in Bhopal
proposal from various angles including those of environment, sanitation, etc. Several colonies in Bhopal fall outside the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation and, no wonder, are faced up with problems of drainage, sewers and what have you.

We have a system of city development plans that are formulated for implementation every ten years. The last one was current up to 2005 and it has already been more than a decade that a new one has become due. The development plans largely deal with expansion of the city. A time, perhaps, has come to change the paradigm and stop any more expansion. Instead of further capturing virgin lands efforts need to be made to construct, if need be, only within the available land resources. What is required today seems to be planned consolidation and upgrade of the available assets, infrastructure, etc. The idea should be to enhance the experience the city offers to its denizens.

Umpteen times it has been repeated that satellite towns should also be brought within the planning processes of Bhopal. An upgrade for them would obviate the need for tackling in Bhopal the rural-urban migrations which have now become a fact of life. With the weather playing truant the migrations will surely increase. The rural folk will have only two alternatives in the event of crop failure, commit suicide or migrate. Instead of everyone from (what could be called Bhopal’s) catchments heading towards it the satellite towns falling on the way should be so developed as to be attractive enough for people on the move to head for them instead. They have to have jobs and possibly housing for those who come looking for succour.

The upshot is that the planning process needs to include not a further expansion but a wise mix of development and upgrades to offer better quality of life to the townsfolk the main elements of which will have to be greenery – on the fringes and within.. A city replete with trees, parks and urban forests will surely keep the temperatures down to bearable levels. Bhopal has to falsify the recent findings of Indian Institute Science, Bangalore, that by 2018 it will be left with only 11% greenery (which fell to 21% in 1992 from 66%). In 1977 the vegetation cover was 92% which is why the city used to be so pleasant and livable. A window of opportunity seems to have been opened by the chief minister’s plan to plant a crore of trees. Let the planners latch on to it and plan greening the town in right earnest in order to restore its salubruity. But before that mapping its current greenery would seem to be absolutely necessary.

*Photos from the internet

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 28 :: Bhopal saved


Green Bhopal
Bhopal has been saved – yes, at least for the time being. The news that came in on the 17th morning was such a relief. The pressure of the affected people of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar, the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum and Mrs. Buch’s National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment yielded the desired results. The “Smart City” is now going to be elsewhere and not in Shivaji and Tulsi Nagars. There are reports even the PM’s advice tendered at Ujjain during his speech for conservation of water and saving and nursing trees may also have played a major part. Otherwise, the CM appeared earlier to be quite determined to push the original proposal through.

I say that it was a relief largely because I think Bhopal has been saved. Had the proposal of building the smart city in these two localities fructified the city would have lost thousands of trees and the aridity coupled with changing climate would have made the city unlivable. In a small fraction of the proposed area (117 acres) the Municipal Corporation itself came across more than 4000 trees, though its count is disputed. One can quite imagine how many trees would have been felled had the proposal gone through for building the smart city in 350 acres. The warming of the earth is already showing up. Had Bhopal ever had a run of 440 C for six consecutive days? In fact, the mercury broke the record and hit 45.3 degrees Celsius on 18th May. This should indicate to the skeptics the shape of things to come. The Met is predicting high temperatures right through the week. The Gammon India’s Central Business District in place of the South TT Nagar Colony was bad enough as it was inhabited  but verdant; the “Smart City” would have killed Bhopal.

Now that the struggle is behind us all of us need to congratulate ourselves. But one must thank the People’s Samachar, the Hindi daily, which launched a relentless campaign against the proposal. It invested a lot of time, effort and money bringing to people every day new facts and the opinions of those who would have been affected. Their stories would not have been disseminated but for the efforts of the daily. The most poignant feature was a photograph of Dr. Yogesh Baluapuri, head of Orthopedics in Red Cross Hospital, trying to put his arms round a massive tree with a great girth. He ought to be in his sixties and yet he came out to protest against a harebrained project. Somehow the English language press seemed to keep a hands-off attitude. They all are survivors on the largess distributed by the government and hence didn’t want to be on the wrong side of it. People’s sufferings do not seem to matter to them as long as their cash registers keep ringing.

To me it looks like that there is no reason for feeling complaisant after what people tend to take as victory. The CM has said that his government will plant a crore of trees. A very good thought indeed in view of the rising threats of global warming and droughts! The dry and parched earth seems to be expanding its reach virtually every year. We all know what trees are capable of doing for inviting precipitation, retention of moisture in the soil and provide water security for all living beings. Hence, while the CM is on his mission to green the state we should press him to green the hills around Bhopal that have been denuded of trees. Rising urbanization was bad enough for the city, worse was colonization of the hills. It is high time that further human encroachment on the hills is stopped and a determined effort is made to green the surrounding hills. The effects will be visible within a short time. One of our members in the Citizens’ Forum, JP Sharma, has made this suggestion and, hopefully, the Forum will carry the suggestion forward to those who matter in this regard. Perhaps, NCHSE also could be of help. When the CM has made this commitment we must take him on his word and insist on him to ensure that tree cover is restored to the Bhopal hills.

*Photo: from www