Monday, May 30, 2016

Destinations :: Versailles (1987)

A piece of sculpture with the Palace in the background
Only about 10 Kilometres from Paris is located Versailles about which we had read in History and Political Science books. Its Palace hosted quite a few peace conferences during the preceding centuries. The most important was perhaps the Treaty of Versailles after the conclusion of World War I about a hundred years ago.
Beginning as a hunting lodge for the French monarch Louis XIII it
A view of one of the gardens
graduated into an opulent palace from where the royal functions of French monarchy used to be discharged. Yes, it used to be the capital of France during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI, the last, however, couldn’t complete his reign as he was overtaken by the revolutionary forces and was hauled out of Versailles and housed in the Tuileries Palace in Paris only to be charge for treason and guillotined in 1793. A few months later his queen Marie Antoinette, too, was executed. Revolutionaries can be pretty cruel and hateful. The Palace has since then lost all the importance apart from being a site for tourists whose heavy footfalls keeps the neighbouring town happy. The Palace, called the Chateau de
An equestrian statue somewhere on the Palace grounds
Versailles is also used whenever the French Congress – the National Assembly and the Senate – have to meet to amend the Constitution.

From the books on my home town Gwalior in central India I understood that the town’s Jai Vilas Palace was built on the pattern of the Palace of Versailles. It seems the then ruling Prince Jayajirao Scindia had sent one of his sardars (minister), Sir Michel Filose, to see the palaces around the world and then build one for him. It was then said that the palace that eventually Filose built and equipped for occupation in 1873 named as Jay Vilas was patterned on the Versailles Palace. May be the opulence of the Darbar Hall with glass, mirror, two huge chandeliers and the gilding was an attempted copy of the famous Hall of Mirrors of the Versailles Palace. Otherwise from outside Jai Vilas looks more like
Another view of the garden with mywife Bandana in the foreground
Buckingham Palace, perhaps even slightly better.

Having been built over centuries. Every king who resided here added to what was built by King Louis XIV. It was impossible to go over everything because of the massiveness of the place and hence the concentration was on the Hall of Mirrors and the gardens where beautiful sculptures were aesthetically placed. I regret for not being able to take any photograph of the Hall of Mirrors as there were far too many
The family and the Palace building s in the background
people jostling in there. Besides, it was a sultry day. The heat and thejostling crowd made it quite uncomfortable. Honestly speaking, the whole thing was nothing new as we had had occasion to see numerous old palaces. The personal apartments of the king and the queen were certainly richly done up and, of course, one couldn’t probably find better French furniture elsewhere. They were just exquisite.

The gardens of the Palace cover approximately 800 hectares and
The garden and the fountains
they are said to be the most visited sites in France. The gardens are huge and have beautifully patterned hedges in different designs. Beautifully manicured lawns and the flower beds laid in various styles, the sculpture and the fountains make them captivating. Once out in the gardens one could see the vastness of the place. The forests on the fringes make them even more beautiful. Having been to quite a few royal gardens during our trip through Europe I, having no expertise in horticulture, found this one to be aesthetically the best.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 30 ::City of filthy lakes

With the problem of smart city behind us, we will have to concentrate on other vital issues of citizens. However, we cannot consider ourselves absolutely free from the problems that may crop up at the new site of the smart city. Here, too, there are reported to be more than a thousand trees. These cannot be allowed to be cut down unless absolutely necessary, with emphasis on “absolutely”. People will have to see how many of them can be saved. If I recall, there are trees that are huge and, apparently, pretty old. These cannot be sacrificed at the altar of the smart city. Perhaps, another battle in this regard is awaiting us; the powder has to be kept dry.

One major nagging issue of concern is the Upper Lake and its proper upkeep. The custodian of the Upper Lake, Bhopal Municipal Corporation has been rather self-willed and, shall we say, mischievous. Despite the orders of the National Green Tribunal it has been tinkering with the Khanugaon-side shore of the Lake. I have myself had occasion to see a wall being erected and some digging along the length of what is known as the View Point. It will be recalled that the Corporation had formulated plans to construct a pedestrian and a cycle track next to the Lake. The Green Tribunal ordered stoppage of the construction.  But the Corporation seems to have been carrying on its activities without let or hindrance, unseen and unchecked by anybody. It is nothing but a mischievous activity.

Besides, the other day the People’s Samachar reported that the Corporation itself is polluting the Lake. It reported that the toilet facilities provided by it at the Boat Club empties its wastes directly into the Lake. This toilet was built because of the absence of one at a place where thousands congregate. A noble idea, but one cannot put up with the toilet emptying itself into the Lake. The question is whether permission of NGT was obtained before construction. And, surprisingly it never occurred to the cell in the Corporation dealing with conservation of the Lake to put its foot down on the proposal.

Thus the Corporation has added another drain to the nine that are emptying into the lake. There is no movement in the Corporation to divert the drains to the sewage recycling plants but it is ever keen to initiate construction work on and around the Lake front. The employees are so greedy; any civil work fetches them some extra (ill-gotten) money. The  newspaper report mentions the findings of the Central Pollution Control Board in which it seems to have been stated that around 24 crore 50 lakh litres of sewage go into the Lake without being treated. Apparently only 40 mld can be treated every day and the rest amounting to 285 mld are getting into the Lake.

The paper reports that under the Bhoj Wetland project four sewage treatment plants were established out of which only one is functional. The rest of the three plants discharge sewage into the Lake without being treated. No proposal to set right the non-functional treatment plants has ever been reported. This is nothing but playing around with the health and well-being of the people who consume the water supplied from the Lake. I had once suggested at the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum meeting that the Corporation should not be allowed to carry out any new civil work, unless specifically asked to by NGT or the government, in and around the Lake until it plans and works to stop flow of sewage into it. Perhaps our representative could put the suggestion across to the NGT at the time of the next hearing in connection with the upkeep of the Lake.

 The other water bodies too in the city are suffering because of the neglect of the municipal body. Several drains empty sewage into even in the Lower Lake. Having failed to stop their flow into the Lake for years on end the Corporation built a laser auditorium on its bank and when it proved to be a loss making proposition it promptly thought of shifting the whole thing to the Boat Club. Curiously, there is no check in the Corporation on its imprudent expenditure and it thus freely wastes public money.

I recall once an ex- municipal commissioner of Bhopal had described the Shahpura Lake as a septic tank. That was years ago and there has hardly been any change in its status since then. It continues to be saturated with sewage. Under the NGT”S directions some measures were taken but all that seems to have lost steam. Now even the Motia Talab seems to have been getting sewage from a source that was not revealed in the news report.

The bare fact is that though the government, the Corporation and all and sundry keep shouting about the lakes that are supposedly the city’s identity they are all, in fact, sewage pits – some big and some small. Shamelessly, they are inviting people to “the City of lakes” which , in fact, is a city of filthy lakes. This has to change and Bhopal Citizens’ Forum can have this change effected.

*Photo from internet

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 29 :: Changing the city's micro-climate


A colony being developed by Bhopal Development Authority
Though the mercury has since come down but the other day it registered a high of 46.7 degrees Celsius in Bhopal. This was reported to be a record high for the town. Never for many years has the temperature been under discussion so much in newspapers as this year, more so in the vernacular ones. The reputed Hindi daily with a very large circulation even cited the reason for the mercury hitting an all time high – the relentless increase in urbanization (shaharikaran).

This is very largely true. Lately the urban sprawl has been spreading in all directions and everyone knows what happens when that happens. Farmlands, forests, even wetlands are gobbled up by the greedy builders. I do not know whether it happens elsewhere but in Bhopal the builders lobby have been allowed a free run all over. One cannot perhaps put the entire blame on the builders as they couldn’t have done what they have done without the back-up of their comrades-in-arms in the government. The builder-bureaucracy-politician nexus is all too well known. And, it has worked remarkably well in Bhopal without any let and hindrance.

But, it seems they over-did their thing. In a meeting at a media house not too long ago a participating politician happened to mention that there were as many as 55000 flats in the city for which there are no takers. Apparently, builders never could imagine a situation where flats would go abegging. They have always dealt with situations when you put up any structure and it would be lapped up. The Awaas Melas would attract huge crowds where people would be looking for a chance to own their ever-elusive dream homes. Unfortunately, the builders never reckoned that the times could change. And, they indeed did - for the worse resulting in built up flats lying unoccupied. Clearly, the builders put their money building huge complexes from where the returns seem to be drying up.
Once I happened to go to a hospital off the Kolar Road and I came across a large number of apartment blocks that appeared to be ready but not occupied. At night almost all the blocks were dark indicating there were no occupants. I was reminded of photographs of a Chinese town sent to me by e-mail by a friend showing a number of clusters of multistoried apartment blocks that were lying vacant. Something like this, perhaps in a smaller scale, seems to have happened in Bhopal. The surplus available with the builders became evident when Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association in India (CREDAI), Bhopal promptly offered two thousand-odd flats of various types to the government to relocate the residents of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar for accommodating the proposed “Smart City”.

China can afford excess capacity (which, in fact, is a waste) because it has a massive $3.3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. It fell by more than $500 billion in 2015 and that made news. Ours is hovering around $340 billion and we seem to be pretty happy about it. No wonder, China can access natural resources from elsewhere (including distant continents like Africa and South America) and indulge in excesses like hundreds of high speed trains, Maglevs and so on. We just can’t emulate it.

Excess capacity in housing to a certain limited extent can be tolerated. But, excessive over-capacity has very high environmental costs. It is not only in land with its bio-diversity but also the natural resources that are required in construction. From sand to steel to cement, all have constituents that need to be mined, processed and then used. Take sand for instance. Till recently it was the most inexpensive material used in the business of construction. Today, it has become expensive and, what is more, it is getting scarcer and scarcer. River banks and beds are being denuded of sand, threatening the very flow of water in the rivers. Sand holds water in river beds and it helps in charging the underground aquifers. With uncontrolled sand mining – scrupulous or unscrupulous – many river-side towns have lost their subsoil waters. There was even a call for providing a substitute for sand which, unfortunately, is yet to be found.

The excess capacity in housing can probably be attributed to the failure of the control systems that we have. We have a town and country planning organization and a municipal corporation both of which could have restricted it and the expansion of the town. But, they haven’t and hence the building spree. Quite likely, many colonies on the fringes do not get any of the civic services that the municipality provides. The municipality, in any case, is stretched for human and financial resources which could be the reasons for its ineffectiveness in carrying out its functions. That is increasingly becoming obvious.

Now it seems even the Panchayats (the village councils) too have been given the authority to permit constructions within their respective jurisdictions. But, in all probability, the panchayats do not have the wherewithal to scrutinize each
Another view of a highrise complex in Bhopal
proposal from various angles including those of environment, sanitation, etc. Several colonies in Bhopal fall outside the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation and, no wonder, are faced up with problems of drainage, sewers and what have you.

We have a system of city development plans that are formulated for implementation every ten years. The last one was current up to 2005 and it has already been more than a decade that a new one has become due. The development plans largely deal with expansion of the city. A time, perhaps, has come to change the paradigm and stop any more expansion. Instead of further capturing virgin lands efforts need to be made to construct, if need be, only within the available land resources. What is required today seems to be planned consolidation and upgrade of the available assets, infrastructure, etc. The idea should be to enhance the experience the city offers to its denizens.

Umpteen times it has been repeated that satellite towns should also be brought within the planning processes of Bhopal. An upgrade for them would obviate the need for tackling in Bhopal the rural-urban migrations which have now become a fact of life. With the weather playing truant the migrations will surely increase. The rural folk will have only two alternatives in the event of crop failure, commit suicide or migrate. Instead of everyone from (what could be called Bhopal’s) catchments heading towards it the satellite towns falling on the way should be so developed as to be attractive enough for people on the move to head for them instead. They have to have jobs and possibly housing for those who come looking for succour.

The upshot is that the planning process needs to include not a further expansion but a wise mix of development and upgrades to offer better quality of life to the townsfolk the main elements of which will have to be greenery – on the fringes and within.. A city replete with trees, parks and urban forests will surely keep the temperatures down to bearable levels. Bhopal has to falsify the recent findings of Indian Institute Science, Bangalore, that by 2018 it will be left with only 11% greenery (which fell to 21% in 1992 from 66%). In 1977 the vegetation cover was 92% which is why the city used to be so pleasant and livable. A window of opportunity seems to have been opened by the chief minister’s plan to plant a crore of trees. Let the planners latch on to it and plan greening the town in right earnest in order to restore its salubruity. But before that mapping its current greenery would seem to be absolutely necessary.

*Photos from the internet

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 28 :: Bhopal saved


Green Bhopal
Bhopal has been saved – yes, at least for the time being. The news that came in on the 17th morning was such a relief. The pressure of the affected people of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar, the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum and Mrs. Buch’s National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment yielded the desired results. The “Smart City” is now going to be elsewhere and not in Shivaji and Tulsi Nagars. There are reports even the PM’s advice tendered at Ujjain during his speech for conservation of water and saving and nursing trees may also have played a major part. Otherwise, the CM appeared earlier to be quite determined to push the original proposal through.

I say that it was a relief largely because I think Bhopal has been saved. Had the proposal of building the smart city in these two localities fructified the city would have lost thousands of trees and the aridity coupled with changing climate would have made the city unlivable. In a small fraction of the proposed area (117 acres) the Municipal Corporation itself came across more than 4000 trees, though its count is disputed. One can quite imagine how many trees would have been felled had the proposal gone through for building the smart city in 350 acres. The warming of the earth is already showing up. Had Bhopal ever had a run of 440 C for six consecutive days? In fact, the mercury broke the record and hit 45.3 degrees Celsius on 18th May. This should indicate to the skeptics the shape of things to come. The Met is predicting high temperatures right through the week. The Gammon India’s Central Business District in place of the South TT Nagar Colony was bad enough as it was inhabited  but verdant; the “Smart City” would have killed Bhopal.

Now that the struggle is behind us all of us need to congratulate ourselves. But one must thank the People’s Samachar, the Hindi daily, which launched a relentless campaign against the proposal. It invested a lot of time, effort and money bringing to people every day new facts and the opinions of those who would have been affected. Their stories would not have been disseminated but for the efforts of the daily. The most poignant feature was a photograph of Dr. Yogesh Baluapuri, head of Orthopedics in Red Cross Hospital, trying to put his arms round a massive tree with a great girth. He ought to be in his sixties and yet he came out to protest against a harebrained project. Somehow the English language press seemed to keep a hands-off attitude. They all are survivors on the largess distributed by the government and hence didn’t want to be on the wrong side of it. People’s sufferings do not seem to matter to them as long as their cash registers keep ringing.

To me it looks like that there is no reason for feeling complaisant after what people tend to take as victory. The CM has said that his government will plant a crore of trees. A very good thought indeed in view of the rising threats of global warming and droughts! The dry and parched earth seems to be expanding its reach virtually every year. We all know what trees are capable of doing for inviting precipitation, retention of moisture in the soil and provide water security for all living beings. Hence, while the CM is on his mission to green the state we should press him to green the hills around Bhopal that have been denuded of trees. Rising urbanization was bad enough for the city, worse was colonization of the hills. It is high time that further human encroachment on the hills is stopped and a determined effort is made to green the surrounding hills. The effects will be visible within a short time. One of our members in the Citizens’ Forum, JP Sharma, has made this suggestion and, hopefully, the Forum will carry the suggestion forward to those who matter in this regard. Perhaps, NCHSE also could be of help. When the CM has made this commitment we must take him on his word and insist on him to ensure that tree cover is restored to the Bhopal hills.

*Photo: from www 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Destinarions :: Paris (1987) (Part II)

At the Louvre
We made a beeline for the Louvre Palace the next day. Louvre, as is well known, is one of the largest museums in the world. Originally built as a fortress in the late 12th Century, Louis the XIV left it in favour of the Versailles Palace. Louvre was left behind as a place for display of his collections. Since then it has thrived as a museum containing a wide range of prized and famous exhibits from practically all parts of the world. Most of the pieces were from personal collections and later those that were seized during campaigns abroad were also added.

 The most significant contributions were made to the museum by
ArT Champs Elysees
Napolean III in the 19th Century when more than 10000 artworks, antiquities, etc. were added. Today it is reported to be having for display 380,000 objects and 35000 works of art. Everything from sculptures to paintings, or sundry items that are of best and most valued for a museum are on display. It needs sustained pursuit and several days to cover the whole of the museum – the kind of time that we didn’t have. There is something for everybody, from pre-historic to ancient, Classical, Medieval to Gothic to Renaissance and so on. We saw some of the fabulous paintings of world
Notre Dame
renowned European artists of Renaissance and of various schools like romanticists, impressionists, realists etc. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was there and so was the famous ancient Venus D Milo. The pyramids that one now sees in front of the main entrance were not there when we visited the Louvre. These were completed in 1989 to facilitate entry into the Museum and for proceeding directly to the section one wanted to visit.

The Triumphal Arch – The Arch of Triumph – is another of the monuments of Paris that is visited by thousands of tourists every day. It has inspired many more such arches elsewhere. Our own India Gate at Delhi is considered a reworked version of the Arch of Triumph. The architect Edwin
The Arch of Triumph
Lutyens was probably more inspired by the design of the Paris
Arch. An iconic monument, it stands in the middle of the Charles De Gaulle Place (earlier known as the Place de l’Etoile) at one end of the main thoroughfare of Paris, the tree-lined boulevard Champs Elysees. It is said that that it was the tallest arch until the Mexican one came up in 1938. The Arch was commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon after the victory in Austerlitz. Standing tall at around 50 metres and with a width of about 20 metres it is an imposing structure with beautiful significant sculptures and friezes. As many as 12 avenues radiate from it in different directions. It is to be seen to be believed.

At Place de la Concorde
Another view of Notre Dame
At the other end of the Champs Elysees is the Place de la Concorde is a huge public square from where one can see the Arch of Triumph at the far end. It is where Louis the XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution when it was renamed as Place de la Revolution. Other significant people who were chopped down here were Queen Marie Antionette, the lawyer revolutionary Robespierre, Madame du Barry etc. The Square is acres and acres of land surrounded by beautiful gilded buildings with an obelisk somewhere in the centre. The approach to it is thoroughly interesting – through tree-line boulevard of Champs Elysees with huge shops and cafes which had tables with checked table cloths and chairs waiting for custom. The place has tremendous atmosphere which has to be savoured and cherished.

At Place de la Concorde
The other major place of interest is Notre Dame, the Catholic cathedral in Paris, the seat of the city’s Archdicese. I remember when my late brother came back from Frankfurt way back in 1953 and told us he had been to Paris too my father asked him whether he had been to Notre Dame. Since then we have been aware of this famous cathedral. This is perhaps the only Gothic church in Paris and is
At Arch of Triumph
considered as one of the largest in the world with around 5000 square metres of floor space. It has various architectural features which were innovative used later by architects in other structures, for example the flying buttresses (an arch that supports a wall). Its portals are heavily decorated. Its spire is so pointed it seems as if it is piercing the sky. Its stained glass windows are fabulous and the church is reputed to have fantastic acoustics. Situated close to the River Seine it sort of dominates the River with its presence, particularly so because of its vast plaza which provides stunning views of the fa├žade. Full of statuary, the Cathedral is virtually a work of art – architecture and sculpture mingling together effortlessly.

Paris is perhaps the finest city I have ever visited. Its avenues,
Notre Dame and its pointed spire
broad boulevards and uniform skyline (unlike the confused skyline of ours) and tasteful gilding of most buildings which are more or less of the same height are admirable. It has history and there is so much to see. It is after all a planned city built to the planners’ specifications and most of the buildings are more or less homogeneous in design. One feels that a great amount of thought was paid to the element of perspective while building the city. The River Seine adds to its beauty as it wends its way through the city. Its banks not only are superb and exuding romance they are ideal places for loving couples to snuggle and cuddle. No wonder, it is known as the most romantic of cities.  The people are gorgeous – the men and women are instinctively fashionable; Paris being the fashion capital of the world. They dress well love to flaunt their accoutrements and equipage . It is an amazing place and it leaves one wondering as to how it really ticks.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Destinations :: Paris (1987) (Part I)

Sacre Couer
 Others in our group were to come to Paris from England. I had not joined them in their across-the-Channel trip. I was instead in Geneva and had taken in Basle and Lucerne in the few days I had. We were to meet at Paris. One morning I took the TGV (Trans Grand Vittese), the fast train the French had connected Paris and Geneva with. TGV in 1987 was still in its infant stage. They had one more line from Paris to Lyon. That’s about all that they had.  Now, however, they have expanded phenomenally to most of Western Europe. My wife and I had travelled in it from Brussels to Paris and back ten years later in 1997.

Geneva to Paris is about three hours’ comfortable journey by TGV.
Artists' Square at Montmartre
  The Eurail passes that we had enabled us to travel by TGV in First Class. It travels at more than 350 km/h. The French have been lucky in being able to travel by train at more than 200 miles per hour since 1981. Perhaps, such speeds are not so much necessary for a small country like France. We, instead, need high speed trains more than them as the distances are formidable but we are struggling to put one on the tracks.

Aview of Eiffel Tower
Paris is everybody’s dream destination. It is in the same league as London, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, etc. – perhaps more coveted than any of them. In our parts, politicians sell dreams telling people that they would convert their towns into a Paris; they, however, hardly ever try as they never mean what they say. Paris is a popular destination all over the world. In 2013 it was at the top of tourism destinations with as many as 32 million people visiting it.

My first recollection of Paris is a photograph that appeared in newspapers after defeat of Germany in World War II of General Charles De Gaul marching down Champs Elysees skirting the Arch of Triumph sometime in late 1945. The round-about around the Arch is now called Charles De Gaul Place. Later Hollywood
A portrait being painted of a visitor
movies of the 1950s like the musicals “An American in Paris” with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron and “Gigi” (pronounced Zhee zhee)  starring Lois Jourdan, Maurice Chevalier and again Leslie Caron set in Paris made the place a little familiar with its famous landmarks, its pavement cafes with distinctive checked  table cloths and the River Seine. Talking of the River I am reminded of the chartbuster Eartha Kitt song “Under the bridges of Paris” that was very popular in the 1950s  played frequently over the Delhi All India Radio in its  Friday night program of Western light music ”A date with you”.  A book that gave me information in pretty good detail was Moulin Rouge (meaning Red Mill), a biography of the famous artist Toulouse Lautrec. I read this very interesting book in 1955 and soon there
One of the legs of the Eiffel TowerAdd caption
was an eponymously named film with Jose Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Paris, too, traces its history back to more than 2000 years. Named after the Celtic people called Parisii, it was founded in the 3rd Century BC. By the 12th Century it had become the largest city in the Western world. In the 18th Century it became the centre of French Revolution. One can still see a few place connected with the Revolution. Post revolution there was a period of unrest though Napoleon Bonaparte ruled for more than a decade and a half. It was, however, under Napoleon III that Paris witnessed some works on infrastructure, wide boulevards, massive sewer line projects, parks and massive and now famous gardens like Bois de Boulogne. What we see in Paris today are largely the results of the works carried out in the 19th Century.

This time we stayed not in a pension but in a budget hotel situated
Another portrait expert
very near the Tuileries Garden which has its own history. It was conceived and created in 1564 by Catherine of Medici as a garden attached to the Tuileries Palace. Located between the Lovre Museum and Place de la Concorde – two very important landmarks of Paris – it became a public park after the French Revolution. As they say, this is one park where during the 19th and 20th Centuries Parisians “met, celebrated and promenaded”. Once while going out for sight-seeing I peeped into the garden and found it in good deal of disorder, most unlike a European garden. It discouraged me from exploring further. Maybe what I saw was not
A Parisian street
a place meant to be well-displayed and was hence left pretty much untended.

We headed for Sacre Couer – our first destination. It is located on the Montmartre Hill and is a Roman Catholic Church with a basilica built more than a hundred years ago. Situated at the top of the Hill it dominates the area. The basilica though architecturally nothing great but is a beautiful piece of architecture and pleasant to look at and people love just to hang around in its green, pleasing and salubrious surroundings.  Montmartre Hill is the highest point in Paris and is also known for art and artists who started collecting on the hill to paint and display their art. It all started during the belle epoch (beautiful era) between 1871 and 1914 – a period that was marked by optimism, regional peace in Europe, cultural revival, happiness and hope. Many now-famous artists like Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Toulouse Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, et al lived and worked at Montmartre.

 We moved to the artists’ square on the hill only to be captivated by
Another view of Sacre Couer
a fiesta of art and colour. It was a veritable fair, packed as it was with colourful artists’ stalls with artists painting portraits or caricaturing or sketching landscapes out of sheer inner drive. Sitting under temporary structures they would paint a portrait of a tourist with astounding likeness in no time. Women love to get their own portraits painted and many of them were seen sitting for a painter. The cafes were crowded and tourists were enjoying the surrounding quaint architecture as also the walk on the streets of cobbled stones. It had an amazing atmosphere – elevating and edifying. Reluctantly we moved down the stairs of Sacre Couer and caught a bus for our next destination. We passed through what was Montmartre’s night club and cabaret district. On the way I spotted Moulin Rouge; regrettably I couldn’t take a picture of it.

Our next destination was the iconic Eiffel Tower an amazing structure of wrought iron. Named after its engineer Gustave Eiffel it was built in 1889 as the entrance for the World Fair of Paris that
An artist at work
was held to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. It is one of the most recognizable structures in the world and it is also the most visited monument in the world. An amazing structure; one realizes the enormity of the Tower once one is close to it or beneath it. As tall as about 80 stories, it is more than 1000 ft. in height. It has restaurants on the first and second levels and one can go up its three levels by stairs or by lifts and even to the top by lift. The original lifts were made by the familiar Otis Company. As happens with every new initiative, there was strong resentment against the Tower. Writers, painters, sculptors and architects and the “passionate devotees of hitherto untouched beauty of Paris” all came together under the banner of “Artists against Eiffel Tower” to lodge strong protests with the government against the project. Among the protesters was that famous man of letters Guy de Maupassant. My wife went up the lift and she had a great panoramic view of Paris from up there. I moved around down below taking random shots.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bhopal Note - 27 :: JICA queries on trees

Trees in Shogun's garden, Kyoto
Look at these Japanese and see how concerned they are about trees. The officials of JICA (the Japanese International Cooperation Agency) who are going to be in Bhopal in regard to the local Metro project have enquired whether there are any trees standing on its proposed route. They have probably heard about the opposition to the Bhopal Municipal Corporation’s proposal to chop the trees that are standing in the area on which a smart city is proposed to be built. Hence the query.

 Japanese take great care of their trees – whether in parks or on roadsides or anywhere. I recall having seen during a fortnight’s stay in Tokyo long back in 1982 how they would carefully ensure that the roadside trees branched off from a pre-determined height. They would wrap the tree from its bottom up to the desired height with heavy-duty ropes to ensure branching off from a pre-determined height. So if one stood on the pavement and looked down the street one would find all the roadside trees not only branching off from the same height, they also ar more or less of the same height. Careful pruning from the top ensures that. The ropes are removed once the trees grow to their full height. Japanese aesthetics after all is well known.

In their gardens also they are very particular about placement of beds, ponds, fountains and trees. These are constantly nurtured by care-givers. They have gardens for various purposes, such as, for meditation, for strolling or for conducting tea ceremonies. They have, therefore, converted gardening into an art wherein landscaping is an integral part. I have had the good fortune to go around the garden in Shogun’s palace in Kyoto and have had occasion to see how meticulously they maintain gardens. Trees and gardens, quite obviously, are considered natural capital by them and hence they take great care of them

 We, on the other hand, don’t care much for trees, gardens or parks, especially those that are supposed to be taken care of by public agencies. We are an ‘axe-happy’ lot and we do not think twice before hacking down a tree even if it is full-grown fruit or flower bearing one. I am sure the Japanese who are visiting Bhopal would collapse in a fit if they happen to see some of our vacant spaces with some shrubbery around which we call public parks.

If they hear that we don’t think much of chopping down as many as 4000 trees to build an utopian smart city, perhaps, they would jump into the Upper Lake. Nowhere this kind of apathy for nature is witnessed as in this country. I recall having seen hundreds of trees felled and lying by the side of the highway from Nagpur to Jabalpur. The highway is getting two more lanes one each on either side but I did not see any pressure of traffic needing four-laning of the highway sacrificing hundreds of tall well-built precious CP teak trees. But that is our way and we perhaps can never change. It is all for the sake of “vikas” but no one knows whose “vikas” – certainly not of the people at large. Yet, it is surely for contractors, sundry officials and politicians.

The query of the visiting Japanese needs to be taken seriously by the BMC commissioner and Collector. It should lead them and others involved in the smart city project to appreciate that felling so many trees for a civil construction which possibly could be done elsewhere without harming the environment will be an abominable act and certainly will not win laurels for them.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 26 :: The Patriarch speaks out

The beautifula Bhopsl Lake and its colourful skies
It was a good augury yesterday to see the BJP patriarch of the state of Madhya Pradesh and its former chief minister, Kailash Joshi, speak out against the decision to build a smart city in the Shivajinagar and Tulsinagar areas. He has unequivocally stated against the wisdom of building the smart city where people are already living and where there is such a massive green cover. He has said none ever consulted him but he feels there are enough open spaces in and around the town where the smart city could be built and there is no need to uproot people from their homes and cut down so many trees. This is nothing but sheer logic and surprisingly it never occurred to any of the current top politicians and bureaucrats who have been vigorously pushing the project. Joshi confessed he did not know what precisely is a smart city.   

With the Patriarch coming out against the government’s proposal there seems to have been a domino effect as was discerned from the reports of today. The local MP, Alok Sanjar, toed the Kailash Joshi line and several MLAs, some of them influential and close to the chief minister, too have come out in the open against the proposal. Obviously, they were also opposed to the proposal. Since, however, the chief minister was pushing it strongly they maintained their discipline and did not speak out against it. In his last statement the chief minister was very firm about building the smart city in Shivajinagar and Tulsinagar and seemed to indicate that he would brook no opposition.

 Now, however, there seems to be disarray and probably a bit of confusion in the Party ranks. One has to wait and watch which way the thing turns. In face of the massive opposition from not only his Party mentor and Party colleagues but also from the affected residents he cannot be so unyielding. While the Citizen’s Forum had been suggesting the Baan Ganga area, MP Alok Sanjar has queried why it should not be built in the area of BHEL where houses have been vacated and are awaiting demolition. In any case BHEL has a large amount of surplus land given away by the government and lying unused. Someone else has suggested South TT Nagar where low-rise houses were demolished and the land, prime one at that, is also lying unused.

In the meantime the Government of India has responded to Ms. Buch’s missive and has asked the state government to reconsider the matter in detail. Ms. Buch, former chief secretary, is now apparently heading the National Centre for Human Settlement and Environment (NCHSE) which was formerly headed by her husband Mahesh Buch until his sudden death. The current resistance to the MP government’s proposal to build the smart city in an area which is likely to disturb and perhaps ruin the environment of the entire city is well within the domain of NCHSE. Ms. Buch spearheaded the peoples’ resistance and took off very early writing to the government of India in January 2016. Others, including the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum were tardy and the media campaign came much later. Peoples Samchar has covered the whole proposal very well and field interviews carried out by it were reflective of the affected residents’ sentiments against it.

Now that the opposition to the proposal has built up the Mayor is blaming the Congress for misleading the people. He is wrong as nobody has misled the people; if any misleading has been done it was by the BJP government and the municipal corporation headed by him. The other thing that one could decipher from the fine print is that there is a move to blame the bureaucracy for the faux pas. If the bureaucracy owns it up it would never be able to stand up again against the political executive. The bureaucracy should have initially come out against it as it meant unwarranted and uncalled for human misery for the affected people as well as devastation of the environment of the city in which they too reside. How could it be so insensitive to both of these eventualities? One knows who are behind this harebrained proposal and one would expect the bureaucracy to expose them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 25 :: Laser show and its auditorium

Auditorium for Laser show at the Lower Lake
The Bhopal Municipal Corporation is, reportedly, out to commit another atrocity on the Upper Lake. Its action, if it is eventually taken will be nothing short of an idiotic act.  

It seems the Corporation has been running a laser show at Neelam Park by the side of the Lower Lake where musical fountains were installed in 2012. The show is held twice a day. It has somehow failed to attract visitors and hence the Corporation has proposed to shift it to the Boat Club at the Upper Lake. The proposal is to do away with the tariff of Rs. 40/- per head currently charged at the Neelam Park. This will be done to attract more spectators.

There are numerous objections which can be raised against the proposal. The first one is the fundamental one. When the Corporation is unable to carry out its legitimate functions to the satisfaction of the people why does it waste its material and human resources in matters that are far removed from its civic duties? The laser show and an auditorium for it are not what the people really want. What they want are regular water supply, cleaning of the streets and proper disposal of garbage etc. Before getting into the area of entertainment it should ensure that it did its civic duties to the satisfaction of the people.

The second objection is shifting the auditorium to the Boat Club. Why should everything be concentrated at the Boat Club? It already has enough number of visitors and many more of them would be detrimental to the waters of the Lake. Various experts who had come during the days of Bhoj Wetland Project had made it
A part of the laser show
clear that collection of large number of people at the Boat Club is bad for its waters. The administration including the municipality never paid heed to their advice and all kinds of festivals were organized on its banks inviting huge crowds, creating mounds of garbage which eventually were pushed into the Lake. Even “rahagiri” was organized at the Boat Club. Worse, having imposed a ban on plying of motorized vehicles the municipality has not been able to enforce it for the last 11 years. Its ban was ignored by the Tourism Corporation and even the Chief Minister launched the floating restaurant thumbing his nose at the municipal ban. The Tourism Corporation has hijacked the Lake for its own benefit and runs motor boats and the floating restaurant the Sair Sapata and what have you, the last ruining the bird life of the Lake.

The third objection is that why the show should be made free of charge at the Boat Club? Why not make it free where it is and instead of running it twice a day let it be run on alternate days or twice a week? Probably people have shown a resistance to an over-dose of laser shows and have decided to avoid it. Without trying to assess the size of the audience in the event the tariff is done away with and revising the frequency of the shows the auditorium should not be shifted. The proposal is harebrained and should be given up.

If at all it is shifted from Neelam Park it should be moved to Shahpura Lake and not to the Boat Club. The place already has large number of visitors; it should not be burdened with more of them. The Corporation needs to be reminded that we drink its water and the Lake needs to be kept pollution-free – an objective that can never be achieved with thousands of people crowding on its banks.

*Photos from internet

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 24 :: "Smart City" and trees

It was heartening to see this morning the informal organizations in Bhopal have uniting and collectively deciding to oppose building o the proposed “Smart City” in Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar area. There have been lots of write-ups in the vernacular press,m interviews of the affected residents and enumeration of the environmental consequences. Surprisingly, the English language press has displayed indifference to the matter. Perhaps they do not wish to be on the wrong side of the government. Nonetheless, the government seems to have had a rethink and is undertaking a survey and a count of trees.

For quite some time I have been insisting that building the proposed “Smart City” in the Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar area would adversely impact their micro-climate in particular and the climate of Bhopal in general. I have been saying that just like the Central Business District (CBD)that is coming up in place of the erstwhile South TT Nagar has raised the temperature of the area the proposed “Smart City” (PSC) would also raise the local ambient temperature. A local newspaper has now confirmed and has shown how the hot season temperatures vary in the town from area to area depending on existence or absence of trees.

People’s Samachar, a Hindi daily has gone and done an empirical study by recording the day temperatures in several areas including the CBD and PSC area. The study has found a difference of at least three degrees, i.e. while the CBD recorded 410 C the temperature in Shivaji Nagar was 380 C at more or less the same time. To further prove the point, the study found the Hamidia Road area as hot as the CBD. Here too, as the newspaper said, one wouldn’t find a tree even if one conducted an intense search.

The city and its surroundings have lost enormous number of trees in the last few years not only because of the ever-expanding urban sprawl but various projects that have been executed in the city and around it. The CBD, BRTS and the Narmada Water projects have caused felling of thousands of trees very close to or inside the town. Now one finds that the laying the third railway line from Bina to Bhopal has also resulted in elimination of thousands of trees, mostly close to the town. Likewise, despite a strict no no, construction work in the catchment area of the Upper Lake has also not ceased. The government is the biggest defaulter in this regard. It is because of their apathy (or was it ignorance?) the Sports Authority of India, Sair Sapata, the Jagaran University and other such institution came up in the catchments of the Lake sacrificing numerous trees and farmlands.

Then there is a building spree and more and more hills, valleys, farmlands and forests are being progressively gobbled up. What is more, every year the property fairs are held by builders under the benign support of the government. It would seem that a ceaseless building activity for construction of residential complexes is being undertaken for which permission is apparently given with great felicity. Of course, some time the permission is not even sought and the buildings come up which is why we get a lsge number of unauthorized colonies. The net result is that the city has expanded so much that from some areas it takes as much as an hour or more to reach the local airport. Is it this kind of development (vikas) the government is looking for? If such activities do not stop in quick time Bhopal, which has already lost its reputation of being equable in climate and sizzles in the hot season as, say, Gwalior will soon lose its underground water reserves. Most of the new colonies depend only on sub-soil water. Without any insistence on water-harvesting depletion of the reserves will be sooner than later. With trees gone at the current rate Bhopal would soon turn into a Marathwada town – water-scarce with resultant acute human misery.


The contention of the government that by creating the “Smart City” it is going unlock the value of the government land is, therefore, fallacious. The land with tree cover has been contributing to a great extent to the people and will continue to do so if left undisturbed by way of the ecosystem services. To my mind, it would be suicidal to chop the trees which are our “Natural Capital”.

Today, the buzz-word is “vikas” and it has become a fetish. Whether people like it or not, whether it would be beneficial for them or not it would be rammed down their throats. Every project, good or bad, brings a lot of benefits for those in authority who promote them. I am in complete agreement with RK Raghavan, the former Director CBI, when he recently said that nothing – whether a civil project or defence procurement project – in the government moves unless politicians and bureaucrats are bribed. Such a thing seems to have happened with the Gammon Project when rumours were rife that a huge sum of money was paid by the firm to politicians.

One suspects that the same is the case with the “Smart City” project. The stakes, apparently, are huge for those who are pushing it.

*Photo: from internet

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