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