DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 32 :: Uncivil Khanugaon

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Bhopal Lake
The uncivil and crude behavior of the residents of Khanugaon with the members of the Citizens’ Forum was nothing but reprehensible. They not only were rude they also intimidated the few members who had gone to check the site so as to protest against the now-stopped construction of a retaining wall within the Upper Lake. If the residents thought they had the right to protect their residences the members of the Forum too had the right protest of against an ill-advised construction of the retaining wall that has been the subject of almost daily discourse in the vernacular newspapers. Condemnation of the action of the Municipal Corporation has been pouring forth from several quarters. On 22nd instant Ms Savita Raje, Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture & Planning has said that the so-called retaining wall was going to slowly poison the Lake by destroying its ecology.
Here lies the nub; that is precisely what the problem is. How many people in Khanugaon and even their councillor know the meaning of ecology of a lake? Most of them have not heard of the word and even if they had come across it they wouldn’t have cared to find out its meaning. Since they do not know about it, they are bothered about only their residences which, in all probability are illegal encroachments and, according to them, needed to be protected from being flooded for which the retaining wall would be useful. Ignorance and preservation of personal property, even if it is illegally acquired, propelled them to behave aggressively with members of Citizens’ Forum who seemed to have behaved exemplarily in the face of outright intimidation and grave provocation. That an FIR was not lodged against the intimidators or at least against the Councillor is indicative of decency of the Forum.
However, the point I want to make is mass scale ignorance regarding conservation of the “environment” is the biggest obstacle for its conservation. How can people who are used to open defecation or spitting or littering in public places be expected to know about environment and its conservation? This is what obtains after the biggest environmental disaster that the city witnessed only three decades back. Our education system is such that there is hardly any emphasis on making children, adolescents and adults aware of “environment” and inculcation in them of habits towards its conservation. If the masses are ignorant how the natural assets of the city constituting its environment can be conserved? The residents of Khanugaon think if the municipality is building the retaining wall it would protect their houses. It serves their interests. They are not concerned about what happens to the Lake. For them it could as we ll go to hell and so, they felt who were the Forum people to protest against it? That’s precisely what they reportedly said. This is one aspect that one has to emphsise and the Forum needs to ponder about it. It is for the government to educate them properly on the subject, but will it?
Another issue would seem to be the attitude of the Khanugaon councillor. True, he is the elected representative of the people of Khanugaon in the municipal corporation but he cannot overlook his commitment to the larger interests of the city. He can go ahead and please his constituents but he is one in the elected body the very purpose of which is to take care of the city in its entirety and its physical assets. He is expected to protect the interests of the city as against the narrow and restricted interests of his constituents. Protection and conservation of the Lake should also be one of his main concerns, situated as his constituency is on its shores. But, the question again arises is whether he is aware of his charge and also aware of the reasons for conservation of the Lake. In all probability, no; he too is ignorant having had only rudimentary education. In such a situation how can one expect him to be rational and see the matter in its real perspective.
What was, however, worse he apparently adopted intimidatory tactics and advised the members of the Citizens’ Forum not to repeat their visit to Khanugaon thereby meaning that they could come to harm if they did so. He is quite possibly a bad specimen of councillors forgetting that everyone had the right and liberty of free movements within the city and elsewhere. No amount of muscle power could take away or abridge that right. But the question again is how can such a ignorant and crude person represent the interests of the citizens? It is so unfortunate! No wonder the city is in such a bad shape. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about it; it is, after all, a democratized local body in which mostly ambitious, unscrupulous, half-lettered people get elected, perhaps as a municipal official once said, only to make money.


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