Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recent rumblings about Bhopal Lakes

Sunset on the Upper Lake
Occasionally a wrong step may eventually lead to what one may call course-correction. Something similar happened recently in regard to the Upper Lake of Bhopal. The Urban Administration Department (UAD), under the leadership of its minister, rustled up a project of a couple of hundred crores for conservation and beautification, inter-alia, of the Upper Lake for onward transmission to the government of India for approval. The UAD, under the minister, having been used to treating itself as the owner and decider for its development, conservation and beautification, ignored the Empowered Committee for Management of the Lake and overlooked the fact the Centre for Environmental Planning (CEPT), the renowned institution of Ahmedabad, earlier engaged by it for recommending measures for planning, development and conservation of the Lake was yet to submit its report (for reasons attributable not to it but to the state and government). 

On being highlighted in the vernacular press, the Mayor, who is also the chairperson of the Empowered Committee, is reported to have expressed her unhappiness. Even the Chief Secretary got into the act and summoned a meeting of the Empowered Committee. At the meeting the UAD, however, got a face-saver in the shape of approval of the project but it seems to have been kept on the back-burner. The good that came about from the imbroglio was about the report of the CEPT. Instead of being delayed until the next assembly elections as was being reported, it will now come out by May next. That will, hopefully, put an end to all unilateralism of the UAD, which under the directions of its minister and in association with State Tourism Development Corporation has converted the shores of the Lake into a museum of sorts, planting there an old steam locomotive, a model of a Indian Navy ship and a squat and ugly representation of the legendary ancient king facing the main artery of the town. The department and its handmaiden, the Tourism Corporation, have played havoc with the water body and its ecosystem in several ways details of which need not be mentioned here.

It might be of interest that the UAD in its project has also proposed development, beautification and conservation of the three other water bodies, famously known as the three “cascading lakes”, a part of unique heritage of the city. While the one at the very top, the Motia Talab, is somewhat alive, the two others in descending order are being choked to death by encroachments. Over the years encroachers have had a
Part of Motia Talab with Tajul Masajid in background
free run and houses have been constructed and continue to be constructed even today with the municipal corporation and the UAD acting as bystanders and mute spectators. It seems, the encroachers have secured stay on orders of their removal from the courts and the orders have been in force now for more than a decade. While the municipality, seemingly, is in deep slumber encroachers have gone about grabbing more and more of the two lakes.

Even the so-called marriage-gardens located by the side of the Upper Lake and spewing their waste into it are reported to have obtained stays from the local courts on orders of their removal and these have been in force for years on end. One wonders whether these stays will remain in force till eternity. One can only think of two possibilities: either the lawyers of the municipality are thoroughly incompetent or the whole lot, including lawyers and municipal officials from top to bottom, are corrupt being in the pay of the encroachers. It is astounding that a civic body with all the administrative and financial support it can muster and with all the paraphernalia at its command is unable to get for years the stay(s) vacated to free the lands and structures of the city’s heritage of which it is the custodian. Nothing could be more reprehensible than this.   

Photos: Bandana Bagchi 

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