DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 31 :: Only people will save Bhopal's environment

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The other day at the Late MN Buch Memorial Lecture when the guest speaker Pradip Krishan, the environmentalist, was taking questions from the audience subsequent to his very interesting talk a member of the audience fired a question at the Chief Secretary who presided over the function. The question was about chopping down of trees under the directions of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The Chief Secretary was asked whether the plan to build plush quarters for MLAs had been given up. The CS said he had been informed by the Speaker that the plan had been shelved and, he said, one should take that as final. Apparently, the plan has not been given up, it has only been shelved and may get revived at an opportune moment.

Either the speaker, Dr. Sita Saran Sharma, is dim-witted or he has not been quite truthful. After having slaughtered a thousand trees he said that he had given orders to stop the process of chopping down 9000 more trees in view of the strong resentment of the people. The trees were reportedly surreptitiously cut down and when it was flashed in the print media people in the government sat up. Chief Minister is reported to have spoken to the speaker. In all probability the latter got a mouthful and was asked to stop the whole thing. The speaker had no alternative but to stop further felling of trees and, as a face-saver, said he had taken the action in view of the "jan bhavana", public sentiments. As if he did not know about the "jan bhavana" which was so strongly expressed only two weeks ago that the chief minister had to shift the location of the proposed “smart city” approved by the Centre from the tree covered Shivajinaar and Tulsinagar areas.

This is not the first time that the proposal to build residences for the honourable members was shot down. Earlier a similar plan to cut down a large number of trees near the existing well-spread out colony of the members had to be given up because of public resistance. This time the plan was changed and an area behind the Assembly building on Arera Hills was chosen. However, this time everything seems to have been done by stealth so much so that even the watchful media didn't get wind of it. Even though the detailed project report was not ready what they did was to have thousand-odd trees cut down. This is what happens every time. Whether the project is ready or not trees are the ones which face the axe immediately.

June 5 was Environment Day and as usual the chief minister mouthed his hypocritical commitments for conservation of the environment. His government is perhaps the worst in so far as environmental conservation is concerned. All the time there is an assault on environment. If this happens even in Bhopal where people, media and NGOs are so watchful, one shudders to imagine the conditions elsewhere in the state from where resistance, if any, will come off a whole lot muted. Reports keep appearing in the press of illegal felling of trees at various places in the state.

Here in Bhopal trees are felled at any and every pretext so much so that green cover that was once 92% has come down to 22% in a matter of a few decades and soon it may touch a measly 11% in a year or two. Encroachments and constructions on the periphery and catchment area of the Bhoj Wetland, the lifeline of the city, continue unhindered. The report submitted by the Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad for conservation of the Lake was submitted two years ago. No decision has been taken on it as it does not suit the government and the builders’ lobby. The report is stated to be under examination by the government. If they take years to study a report without coming to any conclusion, they might as well give up on appointing consultants. The Citizens’ Forum and others had to approach the National Green Tribunal in order to force the government to release the report.

 Greatest damage has been done to the Lake during the tenure of this government. If the government continues in the same vein in so far as the Upper Lake is concerned we might as well say good bye to it. Concerted efforts are being made to make use of the land in the catchments of the Lake where no constructions are allowed but encroachments reportedly are all the time taking place.

 And the fire at Khanti, the city's landfill, continues to rage impairing the health and well-being of those who live and work aound it. The city' air is becoming as foul as that of Delhi but no steps have been taken for mitigation of air pollution. I have on numerous occasions seen the vans for checking vehicular emissions waiting forlornly for custom. There is no compulsion on vehicle owners to have their emissions checked. Besides, while recently bought vehicle are generally checked auto rickshaws and trucks or delivery vans that emit most of the smoke are never seen around these vans. All these seem to be minor matters for the government for which conducting of Simhastha Mela and, later, elections to the Rajya Sabha were of greater importance. There is such a lack of governance.

It has now come down to one rather uncomfortable fact and that it depends on the people to make the government to move and act. By itself it seems to be unable to take any decision acceptable to the people. I remember that few years ago when some of us members of the Citizens’ Forum met the Chief Minister he had told us that as long as he was there he would not allow anything adverse happening to the Lake. But now it is his own government seems to be hell-bent on destroying it.


 Clearly collectively people, the media and other social groups will have to be very very watchful for proper conservation of the city’s environment.

*Photo from the internet
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