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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Of "utsavs" and "mahotsavs"

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The Madhya Pradesh government is very fond of organising festivals – “utsavs” and “mahotsavs”. The latest was the “Hariyali Utsav” – a tree-planting festival. The state forest department had planned to plant as many as 7 crore (7 billion} saplings. No one knows how many were actually planted. More importantly, no one knows whether those that were planted during the preceding years at such festivals had in fact survived. Even during the annual “Vanmahotsav” festivals also a lot of hullaballoo is created about tree-planting and sometimes the chief minister himself leads the charge, as it were. But on many occasions, the papers reported, that the planted saplings, for want of care, had eventually been allowed to become feed for stray cattle. Over the years lakhs of trees have been ceremonially planted. Had they all survived, Madhya Pradesh would have been by now lush green and thickly forested. Alas, that is not the case. The latest report released by the Ministry of Environment & Forest indicates that the state has actually lost a few hundred square kilometres of forests. Even our urban areas are consistently losing greenery.

Likewise, a few months back the government was hell-bent on celebrating the “Jheel Mahatsav” – a festival of­ lakes on the banks of the Upper Lake. The reason put out was that the festival would enhance awareness among the aam aadmi about the need for conservation of the water body. The fact that collection of thousands of people during such 4 to 5 day- festivals for an extended period of time every day would damage the Lake and undo all the efforts made to conserve it was apparently not considered by the powers-that-be. The festival was eventually celebrated last February, mercifully, at multiple locations in old and new Bhopal, taking the pressure off the Lake to a certain extent. The Boat Club and the Sair Sapata complex, however, necessarily came for in for special attention.

 All the departments concerned of the government, taken together, blew up Rs 5 crore on the festival without any concrete gain. Not a pie was spent on conservational measures for the Lake. In this kind of money the government would have been able to acquire a dredger for periodically de-silting this and other lakes all of which are heavily silted. One recalls, about five years ago Babulal Gaur, the then Urban Administration Minister declined to sanction Rs. one crore for the purpose when members of the Bhopal Citizens Forum requested him to do so. The request was to spare a crore from the accumulated interest on the unspent amounts of the failed Bhoj Wetland Project that were in deposit. Yet the government had no qualms spending the several times that  sum on a mere festival that in no way served the proclaimed noble intent behind it.

 The government always claims to be highly concerned about conservation of the Upper Lake. But, as is now increasingly becoming evident from the hearings at the local Bench of the National Green Tribunal that it is the government, by its acts of
sheer omissions and commissions, is actually killing the water body. At almost every hearing the Tribunal has expressed its exasperation at the government’s and its agencies’ procrastinations and inertia in carrying out its directions. And yet, there is no positive effort by any of them.

All these “utsavs” and “mahotsavs”, seemingly, are ploys of the political class to fool the people. Nothing ever comes off them. Only huge sums out of public funds are spent without any tangible outcomes. Some of it surely finds its way illegitimately into a few private pockets. 
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