DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Destinations :: Udaipur (1980)


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City Palace, Udaipur

In the winter of 1980 we at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) were required under the Advanced Professional programme in Public Administration to conduct a field study for the dissertation that had to be submitted before the end of the Programme. I was asked to study the problem of rural indebtedness in the district of Udaipur in Rajasthan. Half a dozen other participants were also given different subjects the studies for which were to be conducted in the Udaipur district. All of us, therefore, went to Udaipur for a stay of around 15 days. The IIPA had already carried out the administrative work and organized our stay at the Circuit House in Udaipur and arranged vehicles for us to be ferried to and from the villages that would come under the studies.

This was my first visit to a city of Rajasthan that was then considered to be colourful yet pretty poor. This was the land of valour as exemplified by the legendary Maharana Pratap of Mewar who reportedly never accepted defeated at the hands of the Mogul Emperor Akbar. Udaipur was laid as a city by Maharana Patap’s father, Udai Singh and hence the name Udaipur. It has quite a few lakes and is, therefore, also known as “City of Lakes”. The half a dozen or so lakes of the city have so far never been in good condition. Like many other cities with lakes like Bhopal and Bangalore the lakes have become repositories of the sewage from surrounding urban developments.

The village studies were most revealing about the working of our lower bureaucracy in the governments and banks. Indebtedness was built into the system that was perhaps made to evolve in the way the vested interests desired. In order to eliminate the scourge of the village money lender and his usurious rates of interest the government had persuaded many public sector banks to open branches in villages. And yet the villagers were thrown at the mercy of the predatory money lender.

If, for example, a villager had to buy a buffalo and had to have a loan from a bank he had to complete a number of formalities. Among the numerous formalities the villager had to first get a recommendation from some government outfit and then approach the bank for a loan. In order to get the recommendation he had to bribe the government official and to get the loan from the bank even the bank official would take his cut. If the bribes were paid the villager wouldn’t be left with enough to buy his buffalo. It was a system steeped in corruption in which the villager had no other alternative but to fall at the mercy of the usurious money lender whom the government intended to liquidate. No wonder the money lenders continued to operate and even thrived.

Be that as it may, our programme was such that we had little time for sight-seeing – which was not the purpose of the visit, anyway. Nonetheless, we did visit the two most important sights – the City Palace and the Pichola Lake. The City Palace may have been restored now and the place in front cleared but when we visited it was not so impressive. Perhaps, we entered through a wrong gate – the palace seems to have a number of entry points. It may have been at one time a little removed from the city but when we visited it seemed to be choking with constructions all around. It is reported to have been built over a long period of around four hundred years and hence it gives that claustrophobic feeling. As the palace grew over centuries so did the city, which now is too close for comfort – for a monumental structure like the City Palace.

There are supposed to be 11 palaces inside this huge complex which all
Another view of City Palace
are additions over centuries and generations that are claimed to be 70-odd in number. The palaces within are interlinked through corridors and quadrangles. One would have to have sufficient energy to see the entire complex as one may have to walk a few miles inside – for which again one had to have enough time. Both, unfortunately, were in short supply. But what perhaps was the outstanding feature of the Palace was that though it was built section by section over centuries the style was kept homogeneous.

During our brief visit I remember to have seen some beautiful pieces of European furniture, some European and Chinese porcelains, some exquisite miniatures and sundry curios. A part of the Palace was under repairs and hence was out of bounds. Anyway, I do not seem to remember having seen the Palace from its front. The view from here, apparently, is stunning.

Pichola Lake is also a more than six centuries old artificial lake designed to bring water close to Udaipur for the use of the citizens. Rajasthan is an arid land and water is scarce. Whoever ruled over the land, therefore, had to have water for the people. Pichola Lake is one that was artificially created to start with to make provision for water. Later
The Lake Palace on Pichola Lake
other interconnected lakes came up. Lake Pichola pre-dates the city of Udaipur by at least a century and a half. When Maharana of Mewar decided to shift his capital from Chittorgarh to Udaipur it was on the banks of the Pichola Lake that he built his palace. A number of islands in the Lake have some beautiful structures one of which is the Lake Palace Hotel. Some others have temples from where one gets incredibly beautiful views of the Lake. It is for its Lakes and Palaces that Udaipur has been the location of Hollywood and Bollywood films.

On the two Sundays that we had we had two excursions – to Nathdwara temple and to Chittorgarh. The latter is about a couple of hours drive from Udaipur located on the ancient Aravali Hills. It has one of the most important forts that figured in various battles over the centuries with the Mugal invaders. A massive fort by all reckonings, it has some fabulous specimens of architecture – of both Rajput and Jain varieties. The Vijai Stambh (Victory Tower) is a remarkable architectural feature of the Fort that dominates it. It was erected by Rana Kumbh more than 500 years ago in commemoration of the victory against the forces mustered by Mahmood Khiji. The tower is richly worked that is representative of Rajpiut expertise in cutting rocks and chiselling them.

While Chittorgarh is famous for Rajput bravery and valour, it is also well-known for two of its queens, one, Meera, a devotee of Krishna whose devotional songs are sung till this day and the other a brave and captivating queen, Padmini, who did not fall in the trap set by the
Vijai Stambh (Victory Tower) Cittorgarh
Mugal warrior who had captured the fort and was smitten by her beauty so much so that he wanted her to be added to his well populated harem. Repulsing all his attempts she preferred to self-immolate herself in true traditions of a Rajput queen. The part of the Palace where she did that is still around and is an object of curiosity for the visitors.

The other excursion we went on was to the famous temple of Nathdwara about fifty miles away from Udaipur in the midst of the hills of Aravali. We had to go through the famous pass of Haldighati where a fierce battle took Place between Maharana Pratap and the forces of Akbar. A small memorial for Maharana Pratap’s horse Chetak has been erected here. The favourite horse of the Maharana, although wounded, carried his mount safely away before succumbing to his grievous wounds

According to legends, the temple came up where the bullock cart carrying it away from Mathura got bogged down in the mud. The image of Lord Krishna or Shrinath-ji – a 14th Century 7 years old infant - was being brought away from Govardhan near Mathura for fear of the evil eye of the Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb. The shrine was built in the 17th Century.

The deity at Nathdwara
It has always been known to be a very rich temple. We could not get a view of the infant Shrinath as we were hustled away by the minders. There was a big crowd for what is known as “darshan” – a glimpse of the deity. In any case in the darkness of the sanctum the black figure of the infant Shrinathji did not quite make itself visible. I, however, still remember the jewels that glittered in the darkness on the infant deity’s ornaments.

An incredibly huge amount of ‘prasad” (religious offering) was being prepared. These are generally edible sweets in which ghee (clarified butter) is the cooking medium. In view of the amount of Prasad the temple authorities have to have enormous quantities of ghee. We were shown four wells about three feet in diameter and twenty feet deep where ghee is stored. By any stretch of imagination, that is enormous quantity of ghee. They gave us huge packs of Prasad soaked in ghee but it solidified as soon as it was exposed to the cool ambient temperature.

Rajasthan is well-known for its miniature paintings. Nathdwara, however, is famous for it “pichwais” that are not miniature and are used for decorating the wall behind the deity. The paintings depict Lord Krishna in various moods and basically are meant to educate the lay
A "pichwaii" painting
worshipper about His life. The “pichwais” have become very popular and there are numerous artists who make them. Some of them are so good that they get orders from abroad. We saw some of them at work – downright ordinary folk who have king-sized imagination and a very keen eye for details.  


23rd May 20017

*All images are from internet

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stirring words of encouragement


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Above is clip of a feature that appeared in the Indian Express on 7th May 2917. It has some stirring words of encouragement by a senior to a junior police officer who was (figuratively) waylaid by a petty politician. One wished that all the seniors in different departments could come out publicly similarly to raise the morale of the administrative machinery. For too long the politicians have used it for their wile purposes

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 53 :: VIPs at play on Bhopal Lake

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A jamboree in progress at Boar Club during "Rahgiri"days
A news item the other day reported the highhandedness of the so-called VIPs. The widely circulated Dainik Bhaskar had reported earlier that there was an encroachment in the Boat Club area by a party which had been allotted 600 sq.ft. for running a food joint called Food Point. The newspaper reported that instead of using 600 sq.ft. the proponent had created a facility of 4000 sq.ft.

 The Mayor took prompt action. After his office verified all the related records and found that there were breaches of conditions of the lease and signs of massive encroachments by the allottee he visited the site with his anti-encroachment squad and a posse of policemen just in case the situation turned ugly. Facing no problem he  cancelled the allotment. The operation to remove the encroachment, however, was halted as the Mayor was spoken to by somebody very high in the government.

Later it transpired that the allottee happened to be the son of a major builder in the city who was also close to a former minister in the government. The allottee’s father seems to have influenced the officers of the Municipal Corporation at lower levels to allow the massive illegal construction. They did so behind the back of the Mayor who was not put wise about the underhand developments. The phone call that stayed the hands of the mayor must have come from one of the powerful persons involved.

 This is how the “important” or “very important” people subvert the rule of law. First they manipulate the bureaucracy and if necessary they also get the political executive to step in and help them out. The political executives are mostly beholden to them for the favours they might have received or are likely to receive from them. The VIPs – for such a person is a VIP in the current Indian context for whom rules can be thrown away to the winds – are, in fact, law-breakers who subvert normal functioning of the official agencies, bending them to work to their own (VIP’s) advantage. They are, as the saying goes, more equal than others.

 Shiv Vishwanathan, a reputed social scientist, in one of his very interesting pieces has said that the 20th Century writer George Orwell understood the Indian brand of socialism very well. His book Animal Farm was taken to be a critique of Indian socialism where the pigs challenging equality asserted “some were more equal than others”. Vishwanathan says, as animal symbolism goes, “the Pig is the archetypal VIP” but some have added, even “the Pig looks restrained next to our product”. (Incidentally, Pigs Snowball and Napoleon are characters in Orwell’s Animal Farm)

Vishwanathan goes lyrical when he describes the Indian VIP. He says the VIP was the Indian Republic’s glorious contribution to the idea of “conspicuous citizenship”. The VIP did not live in the “world of entitlement or rights”. He claimed excess as his birth right. Besides, he has the constitutional right “to disturb, to interrupt and to deprive.” The VIP threatens everyone’s rights but becomes “violent” when his entitlements are threatened – and his rights include (those) “of his lackeys and his family”. No VIP is ever alone – he represents a ”retinue” of people, perpetually surrounded by relatives and friends. According to him, VIP, unlike a citizen, is not singular. Vishwanathan likens him to an epidemic who feels governance was invented for him.
Calling him an “Ugly Indian”, Vishwanathan says that the VIP is a greater threat to democracy than poverty. The affluence of the VIP feeding off a community is obscene. But that is precisely what is happening all around – from encroachments on public lands to illegal sand mining on rivers that are denuded of their sands or even in competitive examinations for admissions in professional colleges where the monstrous Vyapam scandal revealed the activities of this species.

In this particular case, whoever this “Ugly Indian” is he has done a great disservice to the citizens of Bhopal. The city’s pride, the eco-sensitive millennium-old largest man-made lake of the country, is already on its last legs. Having been subjected to myriad atrocities by the likes of this “Ugly Indian” the lake is on the verge of death. Already, the oxygen content of its waters has ebbed so low that dead fishes have appeared close to the Boat Club. Apparently, its waters may not remain fit for drinking for long even after sophisticated filtration. Its waters have never been taken care of as the custodian of the lake, Bhopal Municipal Corporation, is more interested in beautifying its surroundings than purifying its waters. This is happening when a large number of government departments and agencies are involved in its maintenance.

 The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” is in operation here on the Upper Lake if one cares to look at it. But there is one which is out to exploit the Lake’s existence for its own benefit and that is the State Tourism Development Corporation. It has secured its bottom-line by exploiting the Lake and its environs by running highly damaging motorized boats on its progressively deteriorating quality of water, running restaurants, food joints, etc at and near the Boat Club and organizing jamborees on its banks in not too distant past.

On a number of occasions attention was drawn through these columns on the ill-advised activities that were being carried out on the banks of this very vital lake for the townsfolk but there was no one to listen to them. All were probably pulverised by numerous “Ugly Indians”. Now it seems that what the chief of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology said about a month back that the Lake would cease to be of use in another 20 years’ time was perhaps an over-statement; it is already gasping for breath and the end is not far away.

Once it is dead the “Ugly Indian” and his ilk would perhaps have no sorrow but would jump in joy with saliva dripping from their mouths on the prospects of getting the biggest piece of prime real estate available for them to use it any which way. Their insatiable lust for land, however, will only be partially sated even as the city’s denizens go water-less – deprived of their inalienable right to life.

*Photo from internet

20th May 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 52 :: Bhopal's pride is grave yard for fish


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Upper Lake, Bhopal
What has now been reported had to happen sooner or later. It has, in fact, happened sooner than later. The local daily reported yesterday that dead fish were found floating near the Boat Club on the Upper Lake. Obviously the pollution of the lake waters has attained such levels that its oxygen content has ebbed like, perhaps, never before killing off the marine mammals. With rains still far off and the lake losing its waters due to usual offtake for supplies and rising rate of evaporation in the sustained heat of 42+ degrees Centigrade the pollution level of the waters has gone up with sewage and other drains flowing into it with their normal intensity. No wonder the fish have become a casualty. None, however, knows which other mammals or organisms of the bio-diverse lake have packed off.

Those who are caretakers of this millennium old largest man-made lake in the country are more concerned about the visitors to the lake-front. They are, therefore, busy in providing greater attractions as also amenities for them. Undertaking construction, they are building view points for people to come and admire the immense natural beauty of the Lake further beautified by large unmatched jets. Only if they had a similar concern for the quality of its waters which are used for drinking purposes by a substantial numbers of citizens and others like us would have had no reason to complain.

They, unfortunately, showed no such concern. It has been more than 12 years since the Bhoj Wetland Project financed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency ran its extended course of ten years and was terminated. The unspent money of the project was used in constructing physical assets like an auditorium, an Interpretation Centre etc. but no money was spent on blocking the sewers and sundry drains that bring sullage and sewage to the Lake. In the intervening 12 years they could not check these pernicious flows and install the required number of sewage treatment plants and run them efficiently. Eight to nine of such drains continue to dump millions of litres of sewage into the Lake. No wonder, the fish are dying – perhaps other organisms too are dying. Not many can survive consuming plain and raw sewage. One does not know what the condition of the birds is, the ones that roost nearabout the Lake. Most, for the presence of whom in large numbers the Wetland was designated a Ramsar Site, had deserted the Upper Lake long ago, anyway; they find neighbouring water bodies far more congenial and hospitable than this one which once used to be their haunt for years, maybe decades and centuries.

Three researchers of universities located in the state had prognosticated that the lake would not remain useful in another eighty years if its maintenance continues in the manner it is being carried out currently. The Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad, which the government of Madhya Pradesh had engaged for suggesting measures for conservation of the Upper Lake, had recently stated that the Lake would not remain useful in twenty years’ time unless measures to protect and conserve it were commenced right away. The report of the CEPT has been gathering dust for around four years now for reasons known to the government. The government has neither released it for public information nor has it taken action on its recommendations. Perhaps its recommendations to stop constructions on the banks of the Lake and its catchments did not appeal to the political masters and the construction lobby. There seems to be a stalemate as even the National Green Tribunal could only have a look at the CEPT report but could not have it released for public comments. It is a strange irony that public has been denied access to a report that was prepared after extensive studies by an expert body at public expense.

I distinctly recall a meeting a few years ago with this very chief minister with members Bhopal Citizens’ Forum. Even then, as today, conservation of the Upper Lake was a big issue. During the course of the conversation he had categorically said that as long as he was there (at the helm) he would not allow the lake to be harmed. It is the same chief minister who has been (fraudulently) promoting conservation of River Narmada even as illegal sand mining continues on it but has allowed the reputed lifeline of the people of Bhopal to come to the brink of its demise. If anybody or any organization is responsible for the current deplorable condition of the Lake which is peddled for tourism in Bhopal, it is none other than the Madhya Pradesh government along with the Bhopal Municipal Corporation which would be culpable and need to be indicted. It is these that are trying to kill this very vital asset of the people of Bhopal


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Of transgender and their plight


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Dr. Manabi Badyopadhyay
One has to give it to the local mayor for taking a very courageous step. He announced recently that he had decided to use the services of the transgender community for recovery of property tax from defaulters. For want of any more details, it is hoped the Mayor of Bhopal has seriously thought about the matter and bring about a change in the lives of the transgender community and people’s perception about them. Surely, he knows that the defaulters are not going to be shamed by the appearance of a transgender at their door to cough up their dues to the municipal corporation. No, not in Bhopal which hosts, perhaps, one of the largest transgender communities.

However, if this is the intention it would be exploiting the transgender community’s sexual aberration to the advantage of the civic body. This is precisely what had been done in Pakistan – in Lahore and Karachi. The property tax evaders were literally raided by transgender people who were successful in intimidating the defaulters to promptly pay up their dues. Reports said that in Pakistan a single round of clapping by the members of the community was enough for the wallets to be fished out and opened up. Something similar was tried in Bihar also and the defaulters did not know where to hide. A group of transgender people with their ungainly gait and hoarse voices, clapping away in the way only they can was enough to rattle the Bihari tax defaulter as, perhaps, it would any other.

Viewed from all aspects, to use the transgender community in this fashion would not appear to be proper, especially by public agencies. The public organizations are expected to take care of them and should attempt to improve their lot and eradicate the discriminatory treatment meted out to them. In India, in fact in the entire South Asia the life of a transgender is miserable and demeaning. It starts from their families who generally do not accept a transgender baby even if she happens to be their own. They are, therefore, necessarily adopted by the transgender community who care for them and bring them up in their own peculiar way. As they grow old they are humiliated at every step and are made to earn their living by dancing at weddings or celebrations for child-birth, where their presence is, curiously, considered auspicious, at least, in the Indian society. And yet to earn their keep they have to go begging or using their own queer sexuality.

The world of transgender community is far too apart from normal bi-polar two-gender society so much so that there cannot be any intermixing between the two, thus debarring them forever from joining the social mainstream. It always works like that and when it deviates it is sustained only for a while, only to get back to where the deviation commenced from. An example will perhaps clarify it. A Bengali transgender, Manabi Bandhopadhyay, broke the shackles of social normality after she had completed higher education. She decided to throw off her fake masculinity by subjecting herself to surgical procedures to align her sexual orientation with her physicality. Having acquired a doctorate on the subject of the community of transgender she applied and was appointed as principal of a women’s college in Krishnagar, Nadia. Troubles for her started immediately. Unable to bear the daily harassment from both, teachers and students she gave up and resigned. Behind it all was her gender or rather the apparent absence of it. Thankfully, however, here there was another deviation. The government of West Bengal that had decided to inquire into complaints against the principal found that they were mostly untrue and rejected her resignation. Happily she is back at her job. Such examples are rare and only brave can take all the innuendoes and abuses that are hurled at a transgender. After all, a transgender is viewed as a sub-human in the normal two-gendered Indian society.

This is precisely what is being currently shown in a soap opera telecast by the intrepid Colours channel. It was a very brave move by the channel as it was a way out-of-the-ordinary soap. The girl enacting the role of the transgender in the serial also exhibited extraordinary guts to take on such a role. The storyline reveals how from the very birth machinations of fate made her escape the atrocities of her father who tried to even bury her alive soon after her birth. It was fate again that threw her into the arms of a loving Punjabi boy of a conservative family which, though doting on the only son, subjected the transgender to untold miseries by inflicting on her extreme mental and physical agony. That she was unwelcome in the house was made plain to her at every step. It was only deep love for her that the boy wouldn’t let go of her for she not only had a beautiful face but also beautiful head and heart – a very well assembled complete package of a human being.

Unfortunately, the problem that the transgender face is universal; the differences, if any, are only in degrees. In the West, however, the transgender are not subjected to such pernicious treatment as in South Asia. Yet, in lots of ways efforts are being made at inclusivity for them. In Britain, for example, the Lloyds Banking Group’s Rainbow Network has thousands of members and allies connecting and supporting LGBT colleagues by providing professional networking events and mentoring. The basic idea is to integrate the transgender employees in the work force by promoting inclusivity and training. All this can happen when the lines of recruitment are open and the transgender can find employment

In India, however, things continue to be different – regressive and status-quo-ist. Transgender are a neglected community which is shunned by virtually everybody. They have been left to their own devices. They are hardly educated and if one ever happens to find admission in a school she is bullied and humiliated so much that she finds the confines of her community safer than the cruel outside world.

Nonetheless, the government seems to be alive to their problems and has already accepted to enact a law on the basis of a Private Member’s bill. This will be like breaking new ground as it will fill the vacuum of absence of legislation in respect of their status, their rights etc. In this connection, a government release said that “through this bill the government has evolved a mechanism for their social, economic and educational empowerment. The bill will benefit a large number of transgender persons, mitigate the stigma, discrimination and abuse against this marginalized section and bring them into mainstream of society.”

As there seems to have been no movement in regard to passing of the enabling legislation the transgender community would seem to have a long wait in front of them. Governments do grind but they do so very slowly. A generation or two could pass by before the enactment takes effect.

In the meantime, however, one hopes the Bhopal mayor will take personal initiative sooner than later to improve the lot of this blighted community of substantial numbers and spread the word around for their uplift among his friends in other municipal corporations.

10th May 2017

*Photo from internet


Friday, April 28, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 51 :: Ex-President's roundabout razed


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Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma
For years the statue of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma presided over the VIP Road that provides entry to Bhopal from its northern parts standing on an elevated pedestal surrounded by tiers of blooming foliage. It dominated the tri-junction that includes the roads to both, new and old Bhopal. For the city to have honoured him thus was, in fact, as it should have been, for if Bhopal today is the capital of Madhya Pradesh it is because of him. Unfortunately, to meet the demands of modern-day life and burgeoning vehicular traffic his statue had to be moved and the once-huge rotary of which his statue was the centre point had to be razed. Today it stands forlorn shrouded by a dusty looking cloth in a nearby small park that is hardly green for a park and is far too small and dry in comparison to its former habitat.

Historically speaking more than fifty years ago a tussle opened up among the three major towns in the proposed new state of Madhya Pradesh. It seems the States Re-organisation Commission had not recommended any specific town to be designated as the capital of the new state. The three major towns - Gwalior, Indore and Bhopal – entered the fray and claimed to be the most suitable for being designated as capital. Gwalior and Indore had an edge as both used to be winter and summer capitals for Madhya Bharat, a major Part B State that was to merge into the new Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal was much smaller but it too was the capital of Part C State of Bhopal state.

As the contest heated up Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, then chief minister of Bhopal State, got into the act. He repeatedly visited Delhi, Gwalior and Indore pushing the case of Bhopal holding rallies and addressing public meetings. (I remember to have heard him speak at a public meeting in Gwalior in 1956.) His indefatigable efforts yielded results and Bhopal was chosen to be the capital of the new state of Madhya Pradesh. Later, he was inducted into the Union Cabinet. Soon, he was elected as the Vice President of India. The ascent to the highest post in the country proved to be a natural corollary. It was a great honour for Bhopal as he was its product. Raised in his ancestral house in the Chowk area and then retiring as head of the Indian State was nothing short of a remarkably great achievement.

Having spent lakhs of rupees in raising a dignified monument to honour Dr. Sharma it was a pity that his statue had to be removed and treated with so much indignity. Bhopal has a history of creating rotaries, enlarging them, decorating them and even planting a statue in each of them of mostly ‘un-worthies’ with a very few exceptions at substantial cost to the public exchequer. Later came a time to reduce the sizes of the rotaries – in some cases little by little, in some others, cutting their sizes by a heavy hand. Currently it is the era of undoing everything that was done before by removal of rotaries and along with them the statues that were installed in the middle of them. Apparently, in doing all this the money spent has been of no consequence; all this is being done to manage the rising volumes of vehicular traffic with the help of new technology of red, green and amber lights.

One wonders whether what is being done is right. There is a contrarian opinion that traffic roundabouts work and they work beautifully saving injuries to commuters and even their lives. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of America, roundabouts reduce accidents by 40%, injuries nearly by 80% and fatalities by 90%. The Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, London has been dubbed the “Silicone Roundabout” with a message that roundabouts are an engineering breakthrough that saves lives and limbs. Howard McCullough is reckoned as the roundabout specialist of New York where the Department of Transportation is considered more advanced when it comes to its Roundabout Programme. He is fascinated by the burgeoning roundabouts of England. There is no denying the fact that roundabouts have their positive side. Traffic necessarily has to slow down at a roundabout reducing fatalities and even injuries, while the traffic keeps flowing evenly in the absence of lights at the intersections to stop it.

In New Delhi there are huge roundabouts and the traffic generally flows evenly. Of course, occasionally it has to be manually managed when impatient commuters try to overtake by by breaching traffic rules. The human element is vital for its success when new technology is introduced. Sophisticated technology cannot prove to be successful unless those who work it or those who have to act out according to its requirements have a change of heart. Obeying “rules of the road” is a cardinal requirement for a commuter who chooses to use a public road. If he does not do so he will put his life and those of others at peril.

Only time will tell whether Bhopal has taken the right decision to get rid of all the roundabouts along with their statues. In the meanwhile however, the statue of the Late President languishes abandoned in a drab corner of an un-pretty park. 
  

28th April 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our Life, Our Times :: 8 :: Lake conservation via judicial intervention


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Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh
This news will certainly give new hope to those who have been fighting to save the Upper Lake in Bhopal and its catchments. The Delhi High Court recently directed the Chandigarh Administration to revoke the permission granted to the ambitious Tata Camelot Project that planned to erect skyscrapers in the vicinity of Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh. The court decided that the plot of land in question fell within the catchment area of the lake. The States of Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh were asked to not only stop construction activities in the catchment area but also to demolish any construction that may have taken place against the mandate of the High Court. The order has been passed while deciding the pending “Save Sukhna” case.

The Tata Camelot project has had a chequered history. Initiated by Punjab MLAs (past and present) somewhere around the beginning of this Century, they expected a windfall on completion of the project. The partnership with the House of Tatas was established around a decade ago. Every MLA was to get Rs. 82.5 lakhs and a luxury flat in exchange for his land of 500 sq.yds. that was allotted to each one of them.

The matter came to the notice of the Punjab & Haryana High court through a news report prompting the court to take suo motu cognizance. The report said as many as nine residential towers of 12 to 35 storeys would dot the Chandigarh’s skyline. The High Court felt that the development revealed “disturbing state of rapid and unregulated urbanization”. However in 2013, the court, quite inexplicably, gave permission to the project saying that prohibition orders on construction in the area were not applicable to it and that the project could continue subject to obtaining all necessary clearances. The petitioners approached the Supreme Court claiming the project will damage not only the Sukhna Lake but also the fledgling Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary.

 The Apex court stayed the housing project and reversed the go-ahead given by the Punjab & Haryana High Court and transferred the plea to Delhi High Court to decide the matter. Chandigarh is a centrally administered territory and, perhaps, hence the transfer to the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court, on examining the Survey of India maps came to the conclusion that the area in question actually fell within the catchment area of the lake and no construction on it could be allowed. The Court referred the matter to the Punjab Government to reconsider the permission given to Tatas for pursuing the project.

The initial permission was given by the panchayat of the village concerned. According to the DNA newspaper the Rs. 1800 crore project was to come up on 59.39 acres with construction of more than 92 thousand flats (?) in 19 towers. Curiously, the case was earlier taken up by the Punjab & Haryana High Court and even in 2013 it did not consider transferring the matter to National Green Tribunal, Northern Region. Neither did the Supreme Court seem to have felt it necessary to ask the Tribunal to decide the case instead of the Delhi High Court though the matter related essentially to the subject of environment.

 Nonetheless, it is a significant example of how the political class expropriates, annexes and seizes public lands and other natural resources for its own benefit, mostly by hoodwinking or browbeating the official institutions. That they appropriate for themselves various other unwarranted benefits at the cost of the general public’s welfare is now well known. One wouldn’t be surprised if this class put pressure on the Punjab & Haryana High court for a favourable decision that was eventually challenged in the Apex Court

It may be of interest to know that Sukhna Lake is of recent origin as the idea for it was floated by the architect of Chandigarh, Le Corbusier. It was created in early 1950s by damming the River Sukhna. It does not supply drinking water to any section of the population of Chandigarh. The intention was only to provide a water body for the new planned city. And, yet its catchment area is considered sacrosanct. No construction is allowed in it and, more importantly, no motorised boat can ply on it and no food stalls or other establishments like restaurants etc. allowed anywhere near it. The other important thing is that it has a well defined catchment area indicated in none other than Survey of India maps.

On the other hand, in comparison Bhopal presents a very sad picture in regard to conservation of its millennium old Upper Lake. For a long time the government of Madhya Pradesh did not even know where the catchments of the Lake began and where they ended. It was perhaps only the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) which for the first time defined the limits of the catchment area. But, there is hardly any sanctity attached to it. Constructions in it are reportedly continuing without let or hindrance and, perhaps, the authorities concerned are winking at it. And, the NGT, though locally situated, is struggling to get rid of the so-called “marriage gardens” that are not only plumb within the catchments, they are also polluting the Lake through their discharges of waste. Besides, the Boat Club is the biggest polluter where there are food and beverages stall, eating joints and the ubiquitous hawkers hawking packaged or freshly made snacks. Besides, motorised boats, including one that serves snacks and food also ply on the Lake, despite a prevailing ban. All this when the Lake is the source of water for not 10 or 20 or 30% of the population; it is the source for a huge chunk of 40%.

The Bhopal Lake is, in fact, nobody’s baby. It is a recognized wetland of international importance, a Ramsar Site to boot, but no measure is ever taken to protect it or conserve it. It is a prime example of indifference and apathy by those who are supposedly in charge of its conservation. Much was expected from the National Green Tribunal but the hopes have been totally belied. The alternative now seems to be a surge by civil society to force action by the government. Otherwise presumably the prediction made by the CEPT may come true. In twenty years time, as predicted, the Lake, might remain in its present form but it will cease to be of any use for the citizens; its waters will be unfit for human consumption.

Curiously, things have come down to such a level that environmentalists have to take recourse to courts for protecting or conserving natural assets to enable them to issue suitable directions to those who are charged with the responsibility of taking care of them. Things that should be done in ordinary course for the well being of the environment for sustaining life are neglected and unfortunately allowed to be misappropriated by the moneyed and the greedy.


One wonders whether it is time for Bhopal Citizens’ Forum to fight for an award to the Upper Lake of the status of a “living entity” so that all the rights that accrue to the citizens also accrue to it. Given the apathy of the government, perhaps this is the only way the Upper Lake built by Raja Bhoj a thousand years ago can be saved and perpetuated for posterity.