Monday, April 30, 2012

A new CDP for Bhopal new cdp for bhopal
Once again a fresh city development plan (CDP) is in the making. It should have come in 2005 but, as usual, there has been a delay. A plan published in 2009 under the influence and, presumably, guidance of the real estate lobby was such a disaster that it was rejected at the highest level in the state. One, therefore, awaits the fresh one with trepidation. Every plan plans for expansion of the town at the cost of thousands of hectares of forests and farmlands. Bhopal already has expanded in all directions without the necessary civic infrastructure. Yet none seems to be keen to cry a halt and say “this far and no further”. What is more, the 2005 Plan that is still current has not been fully implemented. In any case, it does not seem to have improved the quality of life of the people, reduced poverty or improved their productivity which should be and are the objectives of CDPs. And yet a fresh plan is under preparation. Regardless of that, builders and colonisers are relentlessly expanding the city’s limits. One does not know whether their expansion is covered by the ongoing CDP or ad-hoc permissions.

Nonetheless, the “First Citizens’ Agenda” on Bhopal’s Real Estate was organised in November 2011 by Hindustan Times in which ministers and senior bureaucrats of relevant departments had a brain storming session with builders and developers in respect of CDP 2031. No such Citizens’ Agenda seems to have been organised later by the newspaper regarding, say, agenda for environmental conservation or for transport, healthcare and educational facilities. One wonders whether the real estate lobby, along with builders and colonisers, will again eventually become prime movers of the CDP.

The points that emerged from the discussions are mentioned in brief below:

1)      According to the UAD minister, Babulal Gaur, Bhopal has “all the elements, be it lakes, hills, greenery, road, rail and air connectivity”, which make it an attractive real estate investment destination. Likewise, the minister for Housing and Environment (H&E) felt that when returns from the stock market are not encouraging investments in real estate and bullion appeared to be viable alternatives – thus pushing for more investments in real estate.

2)       While saying so the minister for H&E admitted that with the relentless influx of migrants civic infrastructure of the city has come under tremendous pressure which, according to his Principal Secretary, would require eight times more of expenditure than what is being spent now if the demands were to be met. This kind of money is difficult to find.

3)      A mention was made of housing for economically weaker sections of the population generally living in slums and a suggestion was made that every project had to have a component for them to ensure prospects of work and employment for them close to their residences.

4)      One of the builders raised the issue of vertical vs horizontal development. He said that colonies and complexes have come up 25 to 30 kilometres away from the city centre where the authorities have not been able to reach civic infrastructure like roads, water supply lighting and facilities of healthcare and police. Fear was expressed that a time might come when a trip to airport will take 6 to 7 hours for a flight of an hour to Delhi or Mumbai. 

The concerns expressed are genuine but, unfortunately, there was no attempt to arrive at a consensus. The ministers’ meet with the real-estate tycoons seemed to indicate that the latter will play a major role in the development and expansion of the town. One does not know whether, like other media houses, Hindustan Times is also eyeing a piece of the cake that would be on offer when CDP 2031 materialises.

Be that as it may, Sunita Narain, the noted Indian environmentalist, in one of her pieces expressed a sort of a truism when she said, “The real-estate lobby has a vice-like grip on Indian cities. All too often land use decisions are based on what will make a quick profit for the real estate developers. And without fail, the decisions disregard common sense. The casualties are social and environmental.” One, therefore, is left wondering why those in the government sought partnership of the builders, developers and colonisers who are generally not concerned about larger social benefits and have only personal gains in mind. 

Nonetheless, certain issues that were highlighted need to be considered to determine whether the municipal area should further be expanded under the new CDP. One is, of course, the distances that one has to cover now to get out of the town as colonies and complexes have come up and are coming up all around the town at great distances from the city’s outlets. The second is lack of civic infrastructure for the residents of such colonies/complexes. When the city, currently with its smaller confines and a smaller population, suffers from utter lack of civic facilities and services, it is quite unlikely that the municipal corporation would be able extended them, whatever their quality, to these colonies/complexes in the foreseeable future, given the massive costs involved as indicated by a senior government official.

What perhaps is a more pertinent reason against further expansion of city limits is that the current 2005 CDP still remains unimplemented to a pretty large extent. No work has been done on as many as 24 roads that were planned and there is no hope of work relating to them starting in the near future.

In the circumstances one feels that the new CDP should tackle following issues that touch the lives of the people and refrain from planning, as far as possible, to bring more and more farmlands and forests within an enlarged municipal area:

1.      First of all the attempt should be made to implement unfinished part of the current plan

2.      The new plan should upgrade the (progressively deteriorating) quality of life of the citizens by taking up the following: 

i) Improve quality of roads all over in the town, including those that are within the old and new residential colonies

ii) Revamp the sewerage of the town to expand the capacity of the system to meet the needs of the next twenty years. Despite the money spent in the Bhoj Wetland Project and that taken on loan from ADB sewers still keep leaking and one can even now find manholes in dangerous and deplorable condition

iii) Planners have to contend with the problem of effective management and disposal of solid wastes. In the course of next few decades it may become far more acute. As landfills create more problems than they solve using the solid wastes for generating power is environmentally a far better alternative. Many countries are doing so and even Delhi has now got a plant

iv) Provision of adequate water for a burgeoning population is going to be a major issue during the coming decades. Upgrading the supply system obviating the chances of major and minor leaks that occur so frequently involving in losses of hundreds and thousands of litres of scarce water is imperative. Besides, recycling of waste water and rain-harvesting should be planned in a big way and implemented. Speeding up of meterisation of supply should be prioritised with planning for equitable water supply all across the town

v) The new plan should focus on eradication of slums. The government had projected in 2005 that Bhopal would be slum-free by 2012. That has not happened.  Resettlement of slum-dwellers in low cost housing should be a priority. Likewise, with projections of an enhanced rate of migration into the cities during the next few decades the plan should also provide for meeting the influx by making arrangements that avoid further slumming.

vi) Besides, a comprehensive plan involving development of trade and commerce, education and healthcare in the neighbouring smaller towns could be thought of to entice migrants from their respective catchment areas to prevent their crowding in Bhopal 

vii) Public transport needs to be planned in a manner that it eases pressure of private vehicles on the roads. Already some buses have been introduced under the JNNURM but they are not optimally used. Their quality and efficiency needs much improvement. Besides feeder services have not been planned so far. Unless buses running on the main arteries are fed from hinterland of the stops public transport would never become popular and the roads will progressively get choked. Even the BRTS might not be of any help

viii) Planners have also to think of providing a system of mobility to the commuters comprising roads, railways, metro or light-rail or monorail or sky trains, cycle tracks and pedestrian pathways to control the vehicular emissions. World over efforts are on to reduce vehicular emissions, automobile sector contributing about 30% of the greenhouse gases. So far there has been no attempt in Bhopal to control it despite the relentless increase in the number of vehicles and even check on polluting vehicles is conspicuous by its absence. 

ix) Regardless of the acts of omissions and commissions in respect of the city’s water bodies a new plan should indicate measures over the next two decades for their sustainable use and conservation in a scientific manner. Likewise plans should be made to revive the city’s streams which have now become worse than drains. Many cities in West and the East have revived dead urban rivers and streams for improving the environment. Measures should also be formulated to prevent further colonisation of the surrounding ecologically important hills and forests.

x) The city is known for its green ambience but it has lost a great deal of its roadside canopy which needs to be fully restored. From the Nawabi era, it has also been known for its parks and gardens which have constantly been encroached upon or are being degraded. The master plan for the city should provide for their revival and upkeep in order to extend to the citizens a better and green habitat.

xi) The older part of the city is littered with rundown, neglected  heritage structures which need to be taken care of. The plan should provide for their aesthetic conservation and beautification of their surroundings with suitable facilities for tourists. In fact, these structures need to be properly marketed.

xii) Above all, for effective governance in the city the CDP should determine the extent to which it should be expanded and allowed to grow. Planners need to make an objective assessment of the critical lack of civic governance in the city’s current smaller avatar and, given the unlikelihood of any significant improvement, therefore, need to set a limit to its growth. They should, nevertheless, plan for strengthening the civic governance to provide clean, healthy, secure, productive and fulfilling life to the citizens of the city.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cantankerous Mamata

http://www, mamata

“Mamta is a dangerous, populist demagogue: economically illiterate but politically astute – (a) deadly combo!" tweeted Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairman & MD of Biocon, when Mamata Banerji fired her own party’s minister of railways last month to the surprise and outrage of many and discomfiture of her ruling alliance, the UPA. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s is a fair assessment. Mamata has thrived right through her political life on populist demagoguery. A great street fighter, many used to call her “rabble-rouser”. She could rustle up a few lakhs to choke the Kolkata streets at the drop of a hat. Mercurial and combative to the core, she has had a history of intemperate, even aggressive conduct inside and outside the legislatures, including the Parliament. Age does not seem to have cooled her down.

Highly strung and self-opinionated, Mamata has progressively degenerated into an unpredictable politician, an authoritarian leader and a difficult ally. Her stunning success last May at the Assembly elections when she demolished the 34 years old Left Rule of Bengal was a great achievement as well as an opportunity and a time that should have bred humility in her. I still remember Kolkata on the 13th May 2011, the day the counting of votes was to commence and results declared. The air was pregnant with expectations. The city folk abandoned their normal chores. Glued to their TVs, people deserted the streets and buses and taxis were scarce. There was a curfew-like ambience barring that Rabindra Sangeet (Tagore songs) rendered by Bengal’s popular and distinguished singers – a passion with Mamata – was being played on the public address systems since early morning. Hope permeated the atmosphere – the hope of a change, poribartan, as Mamata called it. As the evening wore on and the results of the elections started trickling in, the excitement was palpable. Announcement of every seat captured by Mamata’s Trinamool Congress was accompanied by roars as people exploded into hysteric excitement. Numerous Bengali language TV channels went to town carrying the latest about an overjoyed Mamata and brooding Left Front bosses. With all the results out by 5 PM people seemed to have heaved a sigh of relief at the loosening of the decades-old stranglehold of the communists and their goons. They had overwhelmingly voted for “poribartan” – a change that they had been waiting for for years.

It is not yet a year since Mamata, followed by hundreds and thousands of euphoric supporters, triumphantly walked down to the historic Writers’ Building to take over the reins of a populous and backward state and already disillusionment seems to have set in. Arrogance born out of infliction of a stupefying electoral defeat on her arch enemy and exhilaration of heady power has bred a perceptible brashness, even a certain amount of recklessness. She and her party-men have come to believe that they can do no wrong and, hence, everything is blamed on the Opposition – the CPI (M) and, of course, the Congress, her electoral alliance partner with which she has had for long an uneasy relationship. Suffering from paranoia, Mamata feels that everybody is out to do her in. Whether it is a fire in one of the reputed Kolkata hospitals or inordinately large number of infant deaths in hospitals or rapes in Kolkata’s outback, for her every such incident is a “set-up” or a “conspiracy” to malign her. Suspecting such a conspiracy she recently had a reputed professor arrested for lampooning her.

Intolerant of dissent, she could not stomach the temerity of Dinesh Trivedi of deviating from what Mamata thought was the brief given to him. Populist, as she is, she could not have countenanced burdening the “aam aadmi” by hiking railway fares. Further, what got her goat was the gumption of Trivedi to thank Prime Minister, other ministers and leaders of various parties including the leader of the Opposition before thanking his own party leader besides articulating the fact that the Railways were languishing in the ICU – pointing finger at Mamata who was his immediate predecessor. No wonder, she blew her top.

With an amorphous ideology, Mamata was earlier a fighter generally for the peasants. Now she is trying to take up the cause of all the down-trodden to the discomfiture of the CPI (M). Even goons of the Left, finding themselves lost in the new milieu, promptly aligned with her party. Believing she has captured the Left support-base, she is out to encroach on the UPA’s territory. She has embraced its “aam aadmi” and has claimed him as her own. Not only did she sabotage the UPA’s plan to hike oil prices and later to bring in FDI in organized retail, she even fired her own Railway Minister for committing the ‘sin’ of harming “aam aadmi”, embarrassing the UPA.

But, for her, it was business-as-usual as she had embarrassed the Prime Minister earlier as well when she haughtily withdrew from his entourage for Dhaka disagreeing with the water-sharing Teesta Accord – a pre-negotiated international treaty. Embarrassing her alliance partners comes to her so naturally. She had twice walked out of the NDA government and, now, with her 19 MPs, she keeps the UPA government on tenterhooks. What matter to her are her votes in West Bengal, the country’s international image or its economic progress hardly figure in her political calculations. Indulging in meaningless trivialities, she thinks she can lead the state towards progress by banishing Marx and Lenin from its schools, painting the capital blue, or asking her supporters to have no truck with the commies, running a state television channel and her own government’s newspaper.

She hardly is an achiever. Her neglect of two years of the Railways made the organization comatose, not that it was very much up-and-about when she took over its reins. It had already slipped into somnolence having become a victim of “coalition compulsions” more than a decade back, headed as it has been by self-centred regional parties. Hostage to politics of votes, the Indian Railways is seemingly devoid of any future. All the talk about high-speed trains, air-conditioned lounges, introduction of anti-collision devices, etc., is hogwash. Some tinkering will be indulged in with the rolling stock or the tracks here and there but it will take eons for it to roll out a swanky high speed train that China rolls out in dozens every year. Passengers will continue to crowd into virtually primitive, pests-infested coaches and journey in trains that clatter along swaying from side to side on rickety obsolete tracks. Ride in trains like those of Trains `a Grande Vitesse (TGV) of France, Shinkasen (Bullet Trains) of Japan or the Chinese High Speed Railways will, therefore, remain a dream for generations of Indians.

Apart from having a running feud with the Centre to which she has been issuing ultimatums for bailing her out of the financial mess, she has done nothing so far for the state. With nothing tangible to show for her year-long rein in West Bengal it remains to be seen whether, with her limited vision, the electoral victory that Mamata branded as “the second independence” is going to deliver the Bengalis from their misery and backwardness.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...