Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bhopal Notes - 5: Restoration of Chowk

The other day the Mayor decided to restore the heritage look of Chowk, the medieval market of Bhopal that teems with life and is a nerve centre of business. The Mayor promised that all encroachments would be removed, the heritage buildings would be restored and the roads will be done up in such a way that people would be able to use them as dining full plates swiping their daal and roti off them. This appears to be his figurative and fovourite way of indicating that he aims at really very good roads. About four months ago he said the same thing while visiting Ridge Road on Idgah Hills but till today there has been no move and the road is deteriorating by the day.

Two days later the chief minister himself did bhumi pujan to kick off the work of restoring the appearance of the Chowk bazaar. One doesn’t know what the bhumi pujan was about as no construction work is involved barring repairing of heritage structures and doing up the roads. But, bhumi pujan that has Hindu religious overtones has become de rigueur for kicking off any civil work although we claim to be a secular state. This has somehow become a tradition; Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi used to break a coconut (another Hindu ritual) on the deck of a ship that needed to be launched into the seas.

Coming back to the matter relating to restoration of the Chowk, ambitious plans seem to have been drawn up. The plans, inter alia, are to paint all buildings an uniform pink, with the signboards of all the shops in the same size and using the same type of font and all electricity and telephone lines will go under-ground . A parking facility, presumably of multi-level kind, will be erected, all the push carts would be pushed into hawkers’ corners freeing space for shoppers. Even if half of what has been conceived or envisaged in the plans is achieved it would be a great improvement. But one has serious reservations about the capability of the officials of the Municipal Corporation. They seem to thrive in confusion to secure their daily, weekly or monthly extortions.

I have, however, not seen anything in the reports about improvement in traffic management in the Chowk. The Mayor seems to have overlooked this vital point. The other day my wife and I took an auto to look for a few things in the Chowk and we found the traffic awfully messy with cars, autos, push carts and numerous two wheeler-riders jamming up the traffic. The two-wheeler-riders are always impatient and try to sneak through the narrowest of openings and in the process they create jams. We were in one and it was a horrifying experience, with the exhaust fumes stinging your eyes and throat, making it difficult to breathe. Years ago a shopkeeper-salesman had told me that every house in the Chowk area had four or five two wheelers and they keep going up and down all the time fouling up the air. It must be much worse today. Jams in the Chowk are dangerous for the commuters, the shopkeepers and the residents as the fumes from exhausts are unable to escape into the atmosphere quickly because of the narrow and confined spaces. We were there for only a short while but for those who have to be there for longer spells and, of course, who reside there it should be hellish.

Management of traffic is an imperative in the area and the Mayor must look at this problem. It needs to be streamlined – and pretty quickly too. Only clean vehicles – four, three and two wheelers – after having been subjected to PUC checks should be allowed in it. Now that electric rickshaws have been introduced in the city, these should be pressed into service in congested areas like the Chowk and its surroundings. It will be far healthier for the shopkeepers, residents and, of course, the shoppers if this is done. Heritage look or not, this is the most important improvement that is urgently required for the sake of health and wellbeing of all those those lakhs of people who live and run their businesses in the area.
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DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...