DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Monday, January 2, 2012

Minister and the Bhopal Lake




After his visits about two years ago to Hyderabad and Srinagar, Babu Lal Gaur, Minister for Urban Development & Administration (UAD) kept harping that the city’s Upper Lake would be developed on the lines of Hussain Sagar Lake and Dal Lake, respectively. The peripatetic UAD Minister seems to have a penchant for implanting on the local Lake whatever he happens to see elsewhere. It seems his obsession with the Hyderabad and Srinagar lakes has since petered out. Now that he and his daughter in-law, the Bhopal Mayor, have visited Chilika Lake in Odisha, reports have come in that the Minister will now strive to develop the Upper Lake like Chilika. That it is the second largest lagoon in the world with a far greater spread and the waters of which, unlike those of the Upper Lake, are brackish (that host the endangered Irrawadi dolphins) do not quite matter to him.

One must, however, give it to him that wherever he might be Bhopal remains in his consciousness. At times, however, it makes him commit excesses. He seems to want to do too many things at the same time. While, for instance, recommendations of international consultants invited earlier for comprehensive development of the water body and its catchments are reportedly still under consideration, the UAD minister not only had a rather ugly statue of the legendary Raja Bhoj installed on what must have been an old watch-tower projecting into the Lake, he went and had a model of an Indian Navy ship planted near the Boat Club. He was recently reported to be in negotiations with the Railways to locate an old steam locomotive too on the banks of the Lake. All this apart, he wants also to erect a museum close to the Lake depicting history of its development through a millennium, notwithstanding the fact that an Interpretation Centre about the Bhoj Wetland Project already exists next to the Boat Club. Perhaps, the Minister is not quite clear about how he would like to “develop” the Upper Lake, which under his stewardship may witness some remarkable hodgepodge around it. One can, however, see through his designs which aim at nothing except attracting hordes of tourists to the Lake.

That collection of large number of people is not conducive to proper conservation of a vital wetland like the Upper Lake does not quite occur to him. Numerous foreign and domestic experts on conservation of wetlands invited by the now-nonexistent Lakes Conservation Authority in seminars and workshops had suggested umpteen number of times prevention of collection of unduly large numbers of people around the Lake for reasons of preservation of its ecological health. But the Minister, in collaboration with the local Tourism Corporation, is hell-bent in doing just the opposite.

Though the minister’s penchant for “development” of the Lake is admirable yet one would have liked him to talk the language of its conservation instead of development. One craves to hear from him of maintenance of its catchments in conducive conditions with farms taking to organic farming precluding the flow of chemicals into the Lake; likewise one craves to hear from him of removal of encroachments from the Lake-shores that are progressively reducing its spread; one also craves for his directions for saving its bird area (bird-life being essential for a wetland’s health) that is now losing its avian guests because of disturbances to their habitat (by Sair Sapata tourism complex, for one); and how one craves to see orders issued forth from him to plug the sewers emptying into the Lake to restore to its waters their pristine purity.

Sadly, these will remain just cravings never to be fulfilled as sustainability of the Lake – not concrete and tangible – never quite appeals to the Minister who, being a politician, finds a melange or mishmash is something he could boast about and which would fetch him precious votes.

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