Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Jheel Mahotsav" of Bhopal

This should be music to the ears of the environmentalists of Bhopal who have gone hoarse crying for effective conservation of the Upper Lake. A report was recently published about the Jheel Mahotsav (the Lake Festival) that was to be celebrated in mid-January hitting some rough weather. The Mahotsav, reportedly, could not be held as scheduled as some youth programme clashed with it. Now, however, Prayatna, a local environmental advocacy group, has decided to launch protests against the state government’s decisions to hold the Mahotsav and conduct other amusement activities on the banks of the various water bodies, especially the Upper Lake.

Reiterating that the Upper Lake is a vital source of drinking water for the local community and generally called the “lifeline” of the city (despite the availability now of water from the Narmada River) Prayatna has said, any amusement activity near the Lake would be detrimental to it and the quality of its water. If the government does not relent, Prayatna, led by Ajay Dube, is all set to launch an agitation.

Ironically, the Mahotsav was to be held under the aegis of the state government, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the MP State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC). While the state government is supposedly responsible for conservation of the Lake and has since appointed the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) for suggesting measures for the purpose, the BMC is the custodian of the water body and ought to be its overall protector. Yet these two authorities have had no qualms about agreeing to hold the Mahotsav. Nothing could be stranger as numerous environmentalists and limnologists have opined during the course of their visits to this Wetland in the past that collection of a large number of visitors in and around it would prove harmful for it. The concerned departments of the government and the BMC are aware of their opinions, yet they seem to be turning a blind eye to them and are seemingly getting carried away by the hype of holding utsavs and mahotsavs.

Already, some researchers have predicted that if business continues as usual the Lake will not remain useful for the local people within the next eighty years or so. I had also come across a report that even CEPT has said that the way construction is going on in its catchments and the way unrestricted chemical farming is allowed to be continued therein the Lake would cease to be in its present form in another sixty years. The man made lake that has survived for a millennium is now going to cease to exist on account of apathy and incompetence of those who are in charge of its care and conservation.

In the meantime, the CEPT made a presentation to the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum in which it is reported to have opined that there is too much human activity near the Lake which is not quite conducive to its proper conservation. As they are yet to submit their report to the government they were requested by members of the Forum to consider suggesting moving away of all the amusement activities from the shores of the Lake or drastically reduce such activities particularly at the Boat Club and Sair Sapata Complex. Many have felt that not only the government is adding to means of amusement near the Lake, it is also converting the Lake View Road into a museum of sorts, what with an old steam locomotive and a model of a naval ship parked there. Plans are also afoot to display an air force fighter plane. The basic idea is to get more people to avail of facilities provided by the MPSTDC of motor boats, a floating restaurant and its other eateries – activities that are contra-indicated for effective conservation of the water body.

The local MPSTDC is actually proving to be a bane for the Lake. According to reports, it had planned to get Shankar, Ehsan and Loy, the famous trio who have given musical scores in various popular films, to get hundreds and thousands of people to enjoy the live musical show. The Corporation claims assembly of large number of people will enhance their awareness about need to conserve the Lake. Instead, collection of hundreds of people only generates a lot of waste that generally includes plastic and other such contaminants that later flow into the Lake. It is nothing but a sort of a fig leaf that barely covers the Corporation's commercial motives. It thinks that attaching the tag of “conservation” would make its activities on the Lake shores legitimate.

It also has plans to put the Upper Lake on the national tourism circuit – whatever that means – forgetting that the Upper Lake, and the Bhoj Wetland that it is part of, are an eco-sensitive zone, more so because the Lake happens to be the “lifeline” for the people of Bhopal. Collection of large number of people, having eateries on its shores and even motor-boating should, therefore, be a strict no, no. Unfortunately the Corporation seems to have lost all sense of propriety. For the sake of its bottom-line it has thrown its innate sense of corporate social responsibility out of the window.

One cannot, therefore, but support Prayatna in its efforts to ensure that the trio of the government, the BMC and the MPSTDC are stopped on their tracks are not allowed to hold the Jheel Mahotsav this year or ever in the future. Letters and appeals to the government seldom bring forth the desired results. In crunch situations, it is only mass protests that generally deliver.
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