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.