DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 23 :: "Smart City" Bhopal


IT IS TIME TO PLANT TREES, NOT TO CUT THEM DOWN

http://www.bagchiblog.blogspot.com




Link Road No.1, Bhopal
The other day, while moving towards the Tin Shed area I happened to notice a dense green cover adjoining the property being developed by Gammon India Ltd. This area has a pretty large number of government houses built soon after Bhopal was made the capital of the new state of Madhya Pradesh. As happens in our villages, the farming communities plant trees – mostly big and shady ones – next to their homestead to get some shade to block the scorching sun. Likewise as Bhopal is known for its strong sun in summer as also during the second summer around the month of October, every household, apparently, had/has planted such trees. In the surrounding bright, hot and blinding sun it appeared an oasis of coolth. Whatever trees that were there before the colony came up must have been axed to build the low-rise sprawling complex of government quarters. The spread of green too, therefore, is extensive. Most of the trees that have a large canopy should be around half a century old. And take it from me, all this greenery was not because of the initiatives of the government; it was largely a private and individual effort which made the colony green. Every succeeding generation of occupants enjoyed the fruits of what their predecessors had planted and added to the greenery if the need for that was felt.

Passing by I recalled that a similar green oasis used to be where the Gammons are building the Central Business District. That area too had a sprawling low-rise colony that was known as South TT Nagar. It also had massive trees which also should have been of the same age as the ones I saw the other day. The colony was wiped out and the trees were not only cut down, they were also killed by being administered some kind of chemicals. Some of us from the Bhopal Citizens Forum along with others who were equally concerned had even protested at the trees being mercilessly felled. But the stakes for the politicians were reportedly very high and none paid any attention to what the affected people had to say. Their protests were too weak. Gammon India had assured that it would plant as many trees as it had felled. Not one seems to have been planted so far. Curiously, none is keen to pull up the private corporate house for its failure. It seems to be above the law. The entire area of the Apex Bank Square looks stark and devoid of any greenery. No wonder, the temperature measuring digital contraption located close to Apex Bank Square registers the ambient temperature always ai least 10 Celsius higher than what one finds elsewhere on the Link Rood No 1.

A similar fate is going to overwhelm one of the greenest areas of the city when Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar are converted into a “Smart City”. The government servants who are located there have already been told to vacate their respective houses to enable their demolition.  People are restive and are anxious as uprooting themselves from their hearths and homes where they have spent decades is always heart-wrenching. Besides suitable houses on rent are not only scarce, they are also expensive with rents touching the skies. The government has held out promises that they would be provided government houses or would be located in rented accommodation with rents being paid by the newly created “Smart City” executive body. But there is always a huge gap between what government promises and what it does. The situation seems to be still in doldrums and is slowly evolving. The government seems to be retreating from the deadline of 30th June for vacation of houses. But the affected people continue to suffer from the pangs of uncertainties.

But that is not what I wanted to put across really. What I wanted to emphasise was the loss of greenery in that greenest of green areas of Bhopal. Although the authorities have been claiming that they will undertake minimal tree-felling, but I for one cannot take them on their word. The governmental or public agencies are merciless in tree-felling and very, very tardy in tree-planting. There is no one in the current administration who could emulate Late Mr. SN Mehta Chairman of MP electricity Board in the 1960s who built a township in Korba felling minimum number of trees keeping the majestic teak trees standing even the compounds of bungalows.

THE PROSPECTS, THEREFORE, SEEM FRIGHTFUL AS THE CITY IS LIKELY TO WITNESS A RISE IN TEMPERATURE BY A DEGREE OR TWO. ALREADY, REPORTS HAVE APPEARED THAT WHILE 2015 WAS THE WARMEST YEAR IN RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY, 2016 HAS BROKEN ALL RECORDS WITHIN THE FIRST FOUR MONTHS. THE MERCURY IS RISING ALL OVER THE WORLD AT AN UNPRECEDENTED RATE. IN THIS KIND OF GLOBAL WARMING DROUGHTS ARE GOING TO BE THE ORDER OF THE DAY. 

We are in the midst of one of the worst droughts ever in which, according to the latest reports, as many as 50% of the country’s people are seriously affected. Marathwada is, of course, in the vortex of it all. When climate change is giving unmistakable signals and droughts are staring us in our face it would be highly insensitive of the government to destroy the greenery of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar. The need of the hour would seem to be to take care not to fell even one tree but to plant more and more trees wherever possible and try and calm the runaway climate that seems to have broken all bounds. Smart cities can happen elsewhere where no sacrifice would need to be made in the shape of greenery. The city already has witnessed sacrifice of large number of trees for the Narmada Water and BRTS projects without any perceptible benefits to the people. Bhopal Citizens’ Forum has suggested the Ban Ganga area where hardly any tree would need to be felled and a smart city erected there would also help in rehabilitation of jhuggi dwellers. If the value lying locked up in government quarters need to be unlocked, Ban Ganga area would eminently fit the bill as a huge area is also being unproductively used

The government should not stand on prestige and stand firm by their decision howsoever flawed and manipulated it might be. It must think of the people and the impact of their actions on them. The proposed smart city is nothing but an invitation to drought and consequential depletion of the city’s underground water reserves. One expects the government to take steps to meet the serious threat posed by climate change. It is not an imagined threat any longer; it is for real. Today it has severely hit Marathwada tomorrow it could hit us in the heart of India. Instead of destroying the greenery and creating a heat-radiating glass and concrete jungle the government needs to think of facing the calamity looming in front. If not for the sake of the Planet Earth, at least for the sake of people of Bhopal the government needs to reconsider their decision to bring up a smart city in the way it has decided to do.

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*Photo from internet




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