Monday, May 27, 2013

46 degrees C is precursor of worse that is yet to come

There was some confusion in Bhopal the other day about the peak day-temperature. The digital thermometer in the New Market area showed it as 46+ degrees Celsius whereas what the Met recorded was a little more than 44 degrees. The Met said there could be variation in temperature from area to area in the same town due to several reasons.

Neem tree
The temperature might well have climbed to an unusual 46+ degrees in the New Market area. I, for one, am quite prepared to buy it. The area where the thermometre is located has recently seen some drastic tree-felling for widening of roads. Nearby, the Gammon India had also chopped down many trees and has already erected some steel and concrete structure, most probably without necessary clearances. With so much of asphalt and concrete around the mercury had to move up and away to a sizzling high of 46 + degrees (around 115 degrees F). Perhaps, it did so because of the “heat island effect”. Who knows!

Whatever the reason Bhopal was not so hot earlier. Around forty-odd years ago when my second brother and I were posted up north in Delhi we would send mother, if she happened to be staying with either of us in summer or winter, to Bhopal to my third brother stationed in the town. Neither could she stand the harsh winter nor the frightfully hot summers of the north. Bhopal was known to be a city of equable climate – neither very cold in winter nor very hot in summer. The winters used to be delightful with bright sunshine and turquoise blue skies and the minimum temperature seldom dipping below 8 degree C. A light woollen would suffice. Likewise, the summers used to be very tempered with the temperature hardly ever hitting 38 degrees C. Evenings were pleasant and the nights were cool. Fans were the only electrical cooling appliance that used to be in use. Other cooling contraptions were yet to arrive on the scene. For the elderly with age-related ailments of high BP and sundry skeletal problems Bhopal, climatically, was a blessed place.

How was it that it used to be such a pleasant place? It was not quite in Malwa, known for its bracing evenings. Yet its climate was a delight – much like Dehra Doon and Bangalore during those gone-by years. With its greenery and several water bodies its climate got that edge making it very inviting. Added to them were the several surrounding green hills – the offshoots of the Vindhya Ranges – that gave one an exhilarating weather right through the year. Alas, all that is now gone – sacrificed at the altar of ‘development’. Climatically the town is no longer even a shadow of its past self. With temperatures dipping down to 5 degrees C in winters and hitting 45 in summers it has lost that quality of equableness. It is no different now from any other north Indian town where the temperatures move up and down in extremes with changing seasons.   

While general global warming may have had its impact but locally we, as local inhabitants, have made no mean contribution in impairing the city’s delightful micro-climate for good. While the city has been spreading out from all its four corners eating away, in the process, all the hills and valleys that came in the way of its self-defeating efforts to expand itself it kept losing on many fronts that included its soothing greenery and delightfully refreshing climate.

Urbanisation is necessary to a certain extent in today’s India but it cannot be at the cost of nature that we inherited from the preceding generations. What one witnesses today in Bhopal is a reckless spree of construction. In the process, more and more hills are being denuded of greenery, catchments of the water bodies are being colonised and farmlands gobbled up not only for erecting money-spinning educational institutions that mostly produce duds but also for creation of pricy gated housing complexes that are of no help to the people in general. All this, however, has given the construction lobby tremendous muscle and its nexus with the politicians and the bureaucracy can even swing government policies in its favour – mostly to the detriment of the city and its citizens.

But none seems to be bothered – especially about the ever-increasing urban sprawl. That it is all generally without the concomitant infrastructure is another story. Suffice it to say that the city planners don’t seem to believe in the credo “small is beautiful” although they are aware that the bigger the city is more unmanageable it becomes increasing the privations of the common man. Given our lack of prowess in civic management the country is littered with examples of chaotic metropolises, cities and towns devoid of the basic civic amenities for a vast majority of their citizens. Even in the West, with far higher levels of civic managerial skills and commitment, planners are veering round to the view of containing the growth of cities for reasons of better civic management and improvement in the quality of life of the residents.

In our case, however, short-term gains of a few drive the entire process for harvesting the benefits – legal or illegal – of the city’s unrelenting expansion. With nothing in it for him, the common man finds himself at the wrong end of the stick with adverse circumstances progressively stacking up against him. One of those is his degrading environment – a component of which is manifested by the mercury hitting hard and going above 45 degrees C. While a few make merry, a vast majority struggle to survive. That’s the gift of our ‘new’ reformed economy.

What most of us forget is that Nature is not going to take our assaults on it lying down. It has already started striking back – with runaway temperatures, widespread droughts, floods and storms that are monstrously violent.

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