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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bhopal Notes - 7: It takes three to kill a lake

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It is highly disquieting that the local Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) which is the custodian of the city’s iconic Upper Lake is becoming an instrument of its degradation and death. The latest reports indicate that, egged on by the current Home Minister of the state and the State tourism Development Corporation, the municipal corporation has been indulging in construction activities in defiance of the orders of the local bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

A proposal had been floated for Lakefront Development under which a pedestrian walk-way, a cycle track, and a food zone at Khanugaon – a pretty well populated substantial piece of land that projects into the Lake from western end of Idgah Hills – were to be constructed. The pedestrian path way and the bi-cycle track were to be created, one presumes, from a point informally known as the “Viewpoint” and were to run along the VIP Road at a lower level and then move on to Khanugaon along the Lake to the proposed clusters of structures for parking and a food zone. A boat club on the lines of the popular one on the opposite bank was also in the works. In creating this facility, strangely, a large number of trees that were planted under the Bhoj Wetland Project (1995-2004) for conservation of the Lake were to be sacrificed. As reported, this was the brain-child of the then Urban Development, Housing and Environment minister and now Home Minister Babulal Gaur. An amount of Rs. 16 crore (Rs. 1.6 billion) was to be spent on the project.

The local vernacular newspapers were up in arms against the project. The Centre for Environment Planning & Technology (CEPT) based at Ahmedabad known for its impeccable credentials, engaged by the state government for preparation of a comprehensive plan for conservation of the Lake, has already submitted a draft report to the government which is sitting on it for the last two years for reasons for reasons that can be explainrd but not mentioned. It is not clear whether the CEPT was in agreement with the project. Reports, however, indicate that the former Mayor, the daughter in-law of Babu Lal Gaur was against it. Gaur was then reported to have asked the BMC to wait for the CEPT report.

The municipal officials, however, had little patience. While lying before the NGT they surreptitiously were working on the project and reportedly even felled some trees. A photograph also recently appeared of Gaur studying the maps of the project. When the matter relating to conservation of the Upper Lake came up at the last meeting of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum I had mentioned (on the basis of newspaper reports) how under the camouflage of lies the municipal corporation was still working on the project without the approval of the NGT. My contention later got corroborated the other day by Dainik Bhaskar when it reported how blatant lies were used by the BMC to hoodwink the NGT. It followed it up by another report next day indicating the municipality’s attempts to reclaim part of the Upper Lake by dumping copra in it to enable it to create a pathway for walkers and a cycle track. Earlier, it had reportedly constructed a 2 feet broad retaining wall bang on the Lake and a community hall is also being constructed within the prohibited zone of 300 metres of full tank level.

The municipal corporation is curiously doing all that is necessary to harm the Lake instead of taking steps to conserve it and it is prepared to do it against the advice of the NGT breaking all financial and administrative norms. There is a heavy spin-off from civil works and it appears to be too much for various stake-holders to resist. Most surprisingly, the minister is also encouraging it. We have seen on several occasions that his idea of conservation of a water body is totally at variance with what it should be. He thinks construction and building of facilities to enable more and more people to assemble on the lake-front would lead to the Lake’s conservation whereas for its conservation access to the lake shores should be limited and kept within reasonable levels, more so as it is a source of drinking water. Numerous environmentalists earlier visiting EPCO had stated to this effect. But no, in willing cooperation of the Tourism Corporation the minister he got the Sair Sapata commissioned, which basically is an amusement park, that has since been declared, after all these years, to be a source of pollution of the waters of the Lake by the state pollution control board. Besides it has caused the flight of bird life from the Lake.

One tends to feel that if the waters of the Lake have not improved in quality over the last decade or two  despite the conservational efforts undertaken three agencies are primarily responsible and they are: the government of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and MP State Tourism Development Corporation.. These three together have caused the maximum damage to a water body that has been in existence for  more than a millennium and have also threatened its status as a Ramsar Site and an Important Bird Area - a bestowal from Bird Life Internat


It is highly disquieting that the local Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) which is the custodian of the city’s iconic Upper Lake is becoming an instrument of its degradation and death. The latest reports indicate that, egged on by the current Home Minister of the state and the State tourism Development Corporation, the municipal corporation has been indulging in construction activities in defiance of the orders of the local bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

A proposal had been floated for Lakefront Development under which a pedestrian walk-way, a cycle track, and a food zone at Khanugaon – a pretty well populated substantial piece of land that projects into the Lake from western end of Idgah Hills – were to be constructed. The pedestrian path way and the bi-cycle track were to be created, one presumes, from a point informally known as the “Viewpoint” and were to run along the VIP Road at a lower level and then move on to Khanugaon along the Lake to the proposed clusters of structures for parking and a food zone. A boat club on the lines of the popular one on the opposite bank was also in the works. In creating this facility, strangely, a large number of trees that were planted under the Bhoj Wetland Project (1995-2004) for conservation of the Lake were to be sacrificed. As reported, this was the brain-child of the then Urban Development, Housing and Environment minister and now Home Minister Babulal Gaur. An amount of Rs. 16 crore (Rs. 1.6 billion) was to be spent on the project.

The local vernacular newspapers were up in arms against the project. The Centre for Environment Planning & Technology (CEPT) based at Ahmedabad known for its impeccable credentials, engaged by the state government for preparation of a comprehensive plan for conservation of the Lake, has already submitted a draft report to the government which is sitting on it for the last two years for reasons for reasons that can be explainrd but not mentioned. It is not clear whether the CEPT was in agreement with the project. Reports, however, indicate that the former Mayor, the daughter in-law of Babu Lal Gaur was against it. Gaur was then reported to have asked the BMC to wait for the CEPT report.

The municipal officials, however, had little patience. While lying before the NGT they surreptitiously were working on the project and reportedly even felled some trees. A photograph also recently appeared of Gaur studying the maps of the project. When the matter relating to conservation of the Upper Lake came up at the last meeting of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum I had mentioned (on the basis of newspaper reports) how under the camouflage of lies the municipal corporation was still working on the project without the approval of the NGT. My contention later got corroborated the other day by Dainik Bhaskar when it reported how blatant lies were used by the BMC to hoodwink the NGT. It followed it up by another report next day indicating the municipality’s attempts to reclaim part of the Upper Lake by dumping copra in it to enable it to create a pathway for walkers and a cycle track. Earlier, it had reportedly constructed a 2 feet broad retaining wall bang on the Lake and a community hall is also being constructed within the prohibited zone of 300 metres of full tank level.

The municipal corporation is curiously doing all that is necessary to harm the Lake instead of taking steps to conserve it and it is prepared to do it against the advice of the NGT breaking all financial and administrative norms. There is a heavy spin-off from civil works and it appears to be too much for various stake-holders to resist. Most surprisingly, the minister is also encouraging it. We have seen on several occasions that his idea of conservation of a water body is totally at variance with what it should be. He thinks construction and building of facilities to enable more and more people to assemble on the lake-front would lead to the Lake’s conservation whereas for its conservation access to the lake shores should be limited and kept within reasonable levels, more so as it is a source of drinking water. Numerous environmentalists earlier visiting EPCO had stated to this effect. But no, in willing cooperation of the Tourism Corporation the minister he got the Sair Sapata commissioned, which basically is an amusement park, that has since been declared, after all these years, to be a source of pollution of the waters of the Lake by the state pollution control board. Besides it has caused the flight of bird life from the Lake.

One tends to feel that if the waters of the Lake have not improved in quality over the last decade or two  despite the conservational efforts undertaken three agencies are primarily responsible and they are: the government of Madhya Pradesh, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation and MP State Tourism Development Corporation.. These three together have caused the maximum damage to a water body that has been in existence for  more than a millennium and have also threatened its status as a Ramsar Site and an Important Bird Area - a bestowal from Bird Life International.
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