Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bhopal Notes -11 - Uncaring of heritage

The portion of Shakat Maahal that fell off. One can see the cracks
The other day while coming down the VIP Road I noticed that some civil construction work was going on at what, if I am not mistaken, is known as the Sikandra Gate or Baab-e Sikandri Gate. It is a heritage site for sure and a report had appeared in the Hindi press that the Municipal Corporation was going to try and restore it. One might add, heritage walks also cover this site and it was indeed in bad shape, more so because of the motor cars that are either repaired there or are just parked there. The area in front of the Gate towards the lake side is not looked after and any and everybody would use it. I have seen urchins playing cricket there.

It is a good move if the Corporation has decided to undertake repairs and restoration of the area. The Gate itself is in reasonably good condition needing, perhaps, some cosmetic job. That it has occurred to the Corporation to undertake this work itself is something praiseworthy. If such initiative had been displayed in respect of Shaukat Mahal before it lost its distinguishing feature from top of the fa├žade it would have probably saved a beautiful heritage site. After all the crack at the top was visible for a long time and there was enough time for taking appropriate action. Alas, no one paid attention to it in time; only the demolition work was taken up promptly after the top of the building collapsed.

 My young friend and heritage lover, Sikander Malik, kept crying about it, writing letters to the government, the municipality and all and sundry but none was prepared to do anything. The local MP wanted Sikandar to meet him. It was a typical officious way of doing things. After all, Sikander would have told him nothing new or anything other than what he had already put down. Later the Archaeological Department seems to have told the Convener of Bhopal Citizens” Forum that as it was a private property government couldn’t have taken any action. I suppose, heritage structures belongs to the community whether it is owned privately or by the public and needs to be saved for posterity.  The loss of the beautiful facade of Shaukat Mahal will be a lasting blot on the city and its administration. It also is going take something away from the Royal Ensemble of Bhopal of which all of us are justly proud.

One wonders whether the Archaeological Department which takes care of the local heritage structures is considering restoration of Shaukat Mahal. The portion that has fallen off perhaps can be replaced taking the several owners into confidence. Simultaneously, the Department needs to think of looking after the Moti Mahal which too is in bad shape. A former Secretary of Urban Administration Department had plans to set up a Pari Bazar or even food court in the Royal Quadrant. Perhaps that proposal could be revived. The point is if a property is in use it gets maintained and taken care of; in disuse, it degenerates and degrades.   

Photos from the internet

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Once again, those who make the clay images for the oncoming Ganesh festival have not acted in accordance with the orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) handed down in 2013.  Use of plaster of paris for the images was banned and the size of the image was not to exceed, I think, four feet (I might be wrong; it could even be 6 feet). Last year the administration did not implement the orders by offering the excuse that the images were already in the making or had been made and, hence, the orders could not be enforced. This year, too, the images of plaster of paris were under construction and the size restrictions, too, were not adhered to. This was brought out by a local newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar, about a week ago.

Before the creaky local administration could react and take cognizance of the report it was NGT which reacted very promptly and notices were issued and hearing was held. The local administration again pleaded that as the images were already being crafted it was difficult to impose the Tribunal’s orders. One does not know what it was doing for a whole year not putting the makers of the images wise about the regulations imposed by the NGT as far back as in 2013. Quite clearly, the administration was not serious about implementing the orders. What is perhaps even worse, the legal help of the administration had the temerity to plead before the Tribunal that all these were associated with the “religious sentiments” of the people and hence, perhaps, could not be enforced.

It was such an idiotic argument that the Tribunal members lost their cool. Quite rightly, they pointed out that the use of plaster of paris and erecting huge images cannot be associated with religious sentiments; it’s only show, at best one-upmanship. Obviously, the lawyer is ignorant of the religion he was talking about. The size of the image or its outer sheen and ornamentation are indicative of only the amount of money spent and in no way reflect the deep piety of those who have such images made. As is well-known there is a competition every year in respect of the size of the images of Ganesh, Kali or Durga. The bigger the image, greater is the crowd and more is the fame and, of course, the pickings for the organizers. The administration was summarily asked to implement the orders.

From the attitude of the administration it has been quite evident that it has been soft-pedaling the matter all these years. People have been demanding banning of PoP images for years but there was no action. I remember years ago people had to demonstrated at Kamala Park area to move the immersion of images to some other place as it was contaminating the Lake. With great diffidence it was shifted to Prempura where the government had a site built for this very purpose but it seems it did not have the guts to commission it, afraid, as it was, of losing its vote bank. Even now the officers may be worried about the adverse reaction of their political masters if some religious leader complained to him.

I am now convinced that it is the government which is wittingly or unwittingly killing the iconic lake of Bhopal. Its actions of omissions and commissions have harmed the ecosystem of the Lake a great deal. The chief minister has always been saying that as long as he was around he wouldn’t allow the Lake to come to harm. That, in fact, is all hogwash. He does nothing to take care of the Lake. Actually, many of the actions taken by his government have harmed the Lake enormously. That is a long story which will be told some other time.   

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Frightening gallop of Indian population

We have hit the 1.27 billion mark. This only means that we are only less than three quarters short of 2 billion. In 2011 we were 1210 million and in less than four years we have added more than 60 million. It is now estimated that at this rate we will overtake the Chinese population by the middle of the next decade or thereabout.

It seems nothing has risen faster than our population – not our productivity, or our industrial base or even our agricultural output. Despite the general progress in agriculture we are still importing wheat, pulses and edible oils. Obviously, our efforts have not been enough to feed our own population and yet the numbers are relentlessly rising. One shudders to imagine the situation in the country when we become the most populous in the world. It would not be a moment to be proud of. We should then hang our heads in shame for not being able to handle something which was well within our own control. We let slip opportunities away again and again.

My generation has been witness to the rise of our population in monstrous proportions. In the late 1940s we were 35 crore in undivided India. The first census in 1951 after independence clocked a figure of a little more than 36 crore. In “One Life is Not Enough” K Natwar Singh, a former Indian diplomat and politician, wrote about a meeting of Chou Enlai and Pandit Nehru in 1960 when Chou was reported to have told Nehru that if “your 400 million and our 600 million” worked together the face of Asia could be changed. True enough, the 1961 Census revealed a figure of little more than 430 million – registering a decadal increase of around 7 crore. Imagine if we had frozen the population at that level how well-off would we have been with the present level of development? Unfortunately, we could not even restrict the subsequent decadal rises at the same level. Last decade saw a rise of 24 crores and the one before that a rise of 16 crores. We used to be sarcastically told that the country adds population-wise an Australia every year. And, yet the government remained impervious and passive.

Even after partition we were over-populated and worse, our poverty was abject and wide-spread, more so in remote rural areas. It should have been a greater reason for the government to have launched more proactive campaigns for birth control. That, however, did not happen. Though India was the first country to announce a population policy as an integral component of the “First Five Year Plan” yet the measures taken were far too soft. The “Clinical approach” that was adopted entailed opening of family planning clinics in the hope that these would be made use of for acquiring knowledge and wherewithal to prevent the surging birth numbers. That, however, did not happen. More importantly, these clinics were few and far between in the rural areas where they were needed the most. No wonder, for want of any incentives to visit a family planning clinic the policy proved to be misconceived. The realization of its failure came only a decade later when a targeted approach was adopted.

In the early 1970s a law was enacted to facilitate medical termination of pregnancies and the Health & Family Planning minister coined a catchy slogan “Development is the best contraceptive”. However, despite the truism being mouthed neither development took place nor contraception was effectively induced. The population kept surging relentlessly. That is when a ham-handed approach by Sanjay Gandhi, an extra-constitutional authority, veritably killed whatever chances of success the weak campaign run by the government had. Taking advantage of the Emergency, he took the targeted approach to the extreme and illegally assigned targets for mobilization of people for sterilisation to teachers, policemen and sundry government officials who were directed to fulfill them or else face severe penalties. The scramble for achieving the assigned targets resulted in many indiscretions and on numerous occasions in utter high-handedness and thereby hangs another story. The net result was “family planning” became a dirty word so much so that not only the people hated it, even  the succeeding government changed the name of the ministry supplanting “family welfare” for “family planning”. As talk of population control became politically unpopular and electorally dangerous no government wanted to touch it with a barge pole.

The governments that came later j­­­ust drifted along and despite population clocks put up at many places we kept on adding numbers. The programme of controlling births was seemingly put on the back burner. No wonder the decadal growth rate hit a high of 24.80% in 1971 decelerating only marginally in 1981 to 24.66%. However, for reasons yet to be identified the growth rate has been slipping since then, albeit at snails’ pace, and has now in 2011 hit a low of 17.64%.
Yet the absolute numbers are frightening and pose a serious challenge for the government for coping with the needs and demands that will be generated by a burgeoning population with aspirations. Our large numbers have hitherto been described as “demographic dividend” but what kind of dividend they would be like has not been indicated. Unfortunately most of the growing numbers of people we have are not in the workforce for want of jobs or skills or both. The dividend would have accrued had there been enough numbers of jobs to absorb them. The country has always been falling short in job-creation to match the accretions in the job market.

We have to face up to this situation for a few more decades because the basic reasons, apart from other well-known ones, for rise in our numbers – birth-rate being higher than the death-rate and the fertility rate, though falling, is still higher than 2.1 – are not going to disappear in a jiffy. More importantly, the government has not been effectively tackling the illegal or legal migrations from Bangladesh and Nepal. Migrants of both these countries taken together contribute easily around 10% of our population. These apart, millions of Hindus from Pakistan have fled to this country. The partition apparently has been nullified with both Pakistan and Bangladesh, unlike India, hounding out their minorities, mostly Hindus.
One can see a tremendous social stress ahead in the areas of employment, infrastructure that is already stretched, fast depleting natural resources, inequitable income distribution and so on. All these have tremendous potential for causing social tensions resulting in inter-community and intra-community stresses disrupting the social fabric of the country adversely impacting its peace and harmony.

The alarming figure of 1.27 billion has appeared while the politicians were in the midst of a slugfest and were unlikely to react and take necessary measures. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister seems to be wisely toying with the idea of exporting skilled manpower to countries that might be in need of them. That will, however, depend on how quickly the Skills Development Mission is able to build up a substantial bank of human capital. 


The so-called water toer and the Chappel Bridge
Another morning (this time I was alone) I got on to a train for Lucerne, a famous town in central Switzerland by the side of a lake in the shadows of the Alps. It was around a three-hour ride that passed through Neuchatel, Biel and other towns. Neuchatel is an important station, being headquarters of the Canton of the same name and a centre of industries. Biel is where the world famous Rolex and Swatch brands of watches are manufactured. The train apparently has to snake up and along Jura mountains on the way and hence its speed slows down quite a bit. One can go right ahead
Spires of St. Leodegar Abbey
from Lucerne to Milan in Italy in around four hour’s time. Once in Europe, one finds all the cities one had read and heard so much about are so easily accessible only if one had enough money and time.

The three-hour ride gave me very little time to explore the town as I had to take the last train leaving
Another bridge on River Reuss
Lucerne by the evening for Geneva. Hence, it was a rushed trip. Lucerne, like all the Swiss cities and towns has a long history. Tracing its history to the days of Roman Empire, it flourished only around in middleages as a Catholic town and became a member of Swiss Confederacy in 1415. The Swiss confederacy, however, broke up during the Reformation and most cities became Protestant but Lucerne, remained Catholic and
A Lucerne street
continues to remain so till today, The most important reason attributed to this oasis of Roman Catholicism surrounded by veritably a sea of Protestantism is the Leodegar Abbey around which the city grew.

As I got off the train I started walking towards the Lake which carries the same name as the town. Soon I came upon a tower-like octagonal structure that appeared to be huge not only in elevation but also in its girth. It turned out to be one end of the most famous Lucerne sights – the Kappellbruke or the Chappel Bridge. The structure earlier was not part of the bridge as it was erected before the latter came up.
Decorated facade in old Lucerne
Though known in German language as a water tower it was never a water tower. It was, in fact a torture chamber for prisoners. It was closed to the public later but remained a part of the bridge complex. It is one of the most beautiful bridge complexes one can ever come across. Built in 1333 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications, it is made entirely of wood protected from
The beautiful Lucerne Lake
inclement weather with paintings insides. I was so taken in by the sight of it that I did not look for a proper angle for taking a photograph,

I entered the bridge from the side of the so-called water tower walked across to the other side taking in the triangular paintings that supported the roof.
St. Peter Chappel
There were small painted panels on the top of the walls where they joined the roof. While the bridge was built in the 14th Century the paintings date back to 17th Century. The Chappel Bridge was one of the three wooden bridges that Lucerne had – one of them was destroyed in a fire. This one, itself, was partially destroyed in a fire in 1993 and has, reportedly been restored

The bridge connects the newer portion of the city with the old one over the River Reuss which is the fourth longest river of Switzerland and runs through Lake Lucerne.
Another view of th Lucerne Lake
The older part of Lucerne is dominated by church of St. Leodegar, a Burgundian bishop, its two spires being visible from across the Chappel Bridge. An abbey existed on the site of the church in the 8th Century and the structure was rebuilt in the 17th Century. The parish church of St Leodegar was founded in 1874. The city of Lucerne is said to have grown around this church as is evident from across the Chappel Bridge. I just did not have enough time to get
Another Lucerne street
inside the church and decided to miss the treasures inside it. Old churches are fascinating for their architecture, decoratives and various artifacts that they exhibit.

I walked around in the old town for a while and came across a number of old residential buildings, some even having the year of construction inscribed on them. Later I moved toward the Lake. It was a wonderfully bright day with blue skies interspersed by stray clouds and the Lake presented its bluest of waters. I hung around by the side of the Lake for some time enjoying its magnificence and then commenced my trudge back to the Railway station. On the way back I again
Another Lucerne church
took to the Chappel Bridge at the end of which I came upon the Chappel Square (Kapellplatz), named so after the nearby 18th  Century St Peter Chappel with a fascinating mural on a portion of its front wall. I could not spare a moment to even peep inside as otherwise it would have been hell to pay

I also made another daylong trip to Basel – another more than three-hour ride from Geneva. It is the third largest city of Switzerlan with a population of arouns 200000 and is located on the banks of Rhine River in the North-Western part of Switzerland that
Basel across Rhine
borders Germany. For want of time I couldn’t cover much of the town except going across a bridge on the Rhine and then take a small round of the city. The place is known for its museums but there was hardly any time to visit any of them.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Bhopal Notes: 9 : Broadband does a disappearing act

I had practically been held incommunicado since last Friday (31st July 2015). The broadband had failed though the telephone worked. A complaint was lodged on Saturday, the 1st of August and I was told that it would be attended to within 48 hours excluding Sunday. Monday and Tuesday had gone by and my broadband connection continued to be a dud. Only on the 5th well after 60 hours somebody turned up and rectified the defect in the WiFi unit. Very helpfully, the man who received my complaint advised me to take a fresh connection worth about Rs .5,000/- for six months where the speed is supposed to be high. I had to tell him that I had been having such a connection for six months during which I had had to send a complaint about its excruciatingly slow speed by e-mail (when I was lucky to find a window of fast-enough spell) to Chief General Manager BSNL, MP and paste another on the Facebook page of Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister of Telecom, IT and what have you. Nothing happened despite the complaints and my broadband connection remained lifeless.

In desperation I had been checking the speed of my broadband connection. I found it scandalously low. I had sent the findings to the Chief General Manager once before.  That, however, did not elicit any response from him. I don’t know whether his ID that I had is current. Earlier one could find the telephone numbers and e-mail IDs of all officers on their website. It seems, the page has since been taken off the web and, if one is in need, one cannot really contact any responsible official. This is how a public sector service-provider has fenced itself off to keep the inconvenient people out of the way.

The local municipal corporation is trying very hard to get the city approved for being designated as a “Smart City”. The reason for this obsession seems to be the Rs. 1000/- crore that it would get to implement the project. That’s a very attractive lollipop for the municipal officials as quite a bit of it can be siphoned off. One, however, wonders whether the men in the municipality have ever thought of the challenges they are likely to face from the BSNL front – utterly inefficient as it is. The concept of smart city is basically based on digital delivery of urban services from several domains working in sync. When the quality of broadband service is so poor wouldn’t the “smart city” be up against several problems? Besides, when there is utter lack of physical infrastructure for delivery of civic services what would digital connectivity be able to achieve? To my mind, people would be happy if the whole range of civic services is delivered more efficiently cutting out all the scope for citizens’ dissatisfaction. To do that the men in the municipality have to put in sincere and honest efforts which is, of course, a pipe dream.

Once Arvind Kejrival had rightly commented during a TV talk-show that there was no dearth of money; only it needed to be directed to deal with the appropriate festering problems. I thought it was a very commonsensical comment. There is indeed no dearth of money as we have seen in this very town crores of rupees allotted under Bhoj Wetland project or Jawharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission spent without in any way improving the quality of municipal services or the quality of life of its citizens. Today mindboggling sums are allotted for various well-intentioned projects but all are reduced to naught because of our workers’ apathy, carelessness and dishonesty. The “Smart City” project is also likely to end up in the already long list of failed projects the expenditure on which went down the drain – or into numerous undeserving pockets.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Family at Grindelwald
Another day out was perhaps the most interesting as it was into the Alps. My brother decided to take us to Jungfrau, German for maiden, one of the main peaks in the Bernese Alps. As is well-known, Alps are one of the great mountain ranges of Europe, stretching approximately 1100 kms across seven countries – from Austria and Slovenia in the east to Switzerland, Germany and France in the west and Italy and Monaco in the South. With 65% of its area covered by the Alps, Switzerland
Wetterhorn massif looms over a village in Bernese oberland
is one of the most Alpine of countries. Swiss Alps are generally divided into eastern and western Alps. The Bernese Alps, which are in the western part of Swiss Alps, have some of the highest mountains of the country and Jungfrau, also known as “Top of Europe”, is one of the main summits in it.

One morning eight of us, all of the family, piled into my brother’s
Tunnel view - a view from the tunnel at Esmeer station
two cars and hit the highway for Grindelwald in Bernese Oberland (highlands). We travelled for around two hours passing through some picturesque Swiss country including Interlaken and climbed on to Grindelwald where we caught a train to go further up to Kleine Scheidegg. That’s where we got into the Jungfraubahn which slowly ratcheted up the mountainside for about a couple of kilometres before it entered a long tunnel. Jungfraubahn is a
Aletch glacier viewed from Jungfrau
cogwheel or rack railway which runs for nine kilometres between Kleine Scheidegg and Jungfraujoch climbing more than 1000 metres (more than 4000ft) within a very short distance. It is electrified and runs on a 1000mm gauge track and runs almost entirely within a tunnel built into the Eiger and Monch mountains after a steep climb from Kleine Scheidegg. This rail- road celebrated its centenary in 2012.

The train stopped inside the tunnel twice, on both occasions, to our
With wife, Bandana, at Jungfrau
surprise, the two stations offered views of the tall Alpine mountains through large glassed-up widows cut into the mountain-sides. The train and the tunnel are quite clearly prime examples of human ingenuity and unrelenting effort. The journey, though short, was an experience that was out of this world. As the train stopped at Jungfraujock we came out to get a stunning eye-level view of the Alps, with the Aletsch glacier sprawled out in front in all its glory with  snow-capped mountains on its flanks. It looked like a river of snow and
An Alpine peak visible from Jungfrau
was a fascinating sight.

In 1987 Jungfrau used to be a small place with the Ice Palace as one of its limited attractions. There were hardly any Indians barring us in the crowd. Today, according to reports, there are shops selling Rolex watches and many eateries including Indian ones serving masala chai and spicy Indian stuff with a bonus of videos of Hindi film songs shot in the icy surroundings of the summit. Indian film industry and tourists have, seemingly, changed the tourism profile of the place.

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