|Municipal functionaries removing encroachments|
Living in Bhopal, it would seem, people are obsessed with the city’s biggest water body, the iconic Upper Lake. It is more so in my case as every hour of the day I find it spread right out in front of me. It is such a fascinating sight. I have been seeing it for the last twenty years in its various moods – lit up in sunlight and azure under a cloudless sky, somber in the moonlight, dark and grey during the monsoon with black forbidding clouds hovering over it, soft-focussed and diffused when it rains. My first published journalistic effort was on it; I can never tire of writing about it. No wonder, I follow everything that is written about it in the dailies.
The current reports reveal the callousness of people who are supposedly charged with the responsibility of taking care of it and other random thugs of the town who have been out to exploit its surroundings for personal gain by nibbling away on its fringes or grabbing its bed when the water recedes during the dry season. Thankfully the 9th July floods occurred when, providentially, the case of encroachments on the Lake was also being heard in the National Green Tribunal. The heavy rains filled up the Lake to its highest level, i.e. 1666.80 ft. and many of the places grabbed that were being passed off as outside its boundaries were flooded. As there was a controversy about its spread a decision was taken to check the “full tank level” (FTL) of the Lake and teams were sent out to verify the cement markers that were reportedly planted by the municipal corporation to indicate the extent of its spread. Four teams were constituted by the district administration for the survey.
Reports started trickling in every day about the results of the survey only to reveal the mass-scale grabbing of the Lake’s area in almost all directions. The surveyors could not locate many markers, numerous others were found submerged in the waters of the Lake and several others had been overtaken by the spreading water. All these years people have been merrily encroaching in the areas that basically belonged to the Lake and this was surely made possible by the support and connivance of the municipal officials. The municipal councillors concerned also would have got their cut. Thus, those who were charged to ensure the integrity of the Lake actively subscribe to these illegalities resulting in shrinkage of the Lake, pollution of its waters and, of course, damage to its eco-system.
From shanties to fairly big houses, liquor shops to shops to eating joints, warehouses to shops selling marble slabs occupying large areas, all kinds of establishments were found merrily functioning and well entrenched in their illegal occupations. Some of the authors of these illegalities along the artery heading north even assaulted the municipal officials in their agitation when they appeared with their equipment to bring down the unauthorized and patently illegal structures. Policemen, who were present, handled them with patience and a lot of understanding.
Demolition of houses in Khanugaon (Cf: Bhopal Notes :: 32 :: Uncivil people of Khanugaon) were to be taken up but were postponed on the orders of the Mayor. Here, it seems, not one marker was found by the surveyors. These must have been destroyed by those who illegally occupied the land that rightfully should have been within the FTL. The reason for not proceeding with demolition of the illegal constructions is not quite clear; the most charitable explanation could be the human problem of people becoming homeless if their structures were demolished. It was in Kanugaon that its residents had earlier misbehaved with the members of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum who had gone there to check the location of the retaining wall that was being constructed by the municipal corporation. The Citizens’ Forum and later even the chief minister found the wall well within the Lake. The project was supposedly prepared to provide a 2 kilometre-long pathway and a cycle track for the people with a boat club thrown in near about. Quite clearly, as it now seems, the whole project was formulated to protect the illegal houses from ingress in them of waters of the Lake. A minister too reportedly supported the project. The idea was, clearly, to push back the boundaries of the Lake. And that is why, perhaps, the residents were so wild at the visit of the members of the Citizens’ Forum. Even the area’s councillor was probably involved in it as he too had, reportedly, threatened the members of the Citizens’ Forum and told them to refrain from visiting the area again.
The findings of the surveyors are yet to be placed before the Green Tribunal. It seems there were all-told 943 cement markers all around the Lake and only a few more than 820 or so have been accounted for. Obviously the missing ones have been done away with by those who waded into the Lake’s territory to satisfy their greed. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation has shown nothing but all round incompetence in discharging almost all its functions; it has done more so in respect of the Lake despite being charged with the responsibility of being its custodian. Disappearance of the markers and whole-sale encroachments which were allowed to continue for years are testimonies of its utter ineffectiveness. Reports have been circulating about hefty amounts that were being paid to the municipal and government officials in lieu of their favours.
Apart from sundry encroachments, it allowed establishment of the Chirayu Hospital & Medical College in what now seems to be the area within the FTL. It must have been flooded this year as the rains have been more than normal as it was flooded even last year when the rains were sparse. A case filed against it but seems to have had wrongly alleged that it violated the catchment area; in fact, as it now seems, it is well within the FTL of the lake Nonetheless, the case resulted in conviction and the Hospital got away very lightly as it was directed to plant a few hundred trees as punishment.
With the exposure of the lackadaisical and careless attitude of the municipal official one can only wait and see what action is taken against those who are responsible for the encroachments and their continuance over the years. The Upper Lake, apart from being a vital source of water for the denizens of Bhopal, is also an important environmental asset for them. It has a far greater role in tempering the city’s micro-climate than what is appreciated. To tinker with its expanse and to allow the pollution of its waters would seem to be a serious crime against the citizens of the city.
One only wishes the National Green Tribunal makes a comprehensive assessment of the measures taken (or not taken) by various authorities concerned, including Bhopal Municipal Corporation, to apportion blame on them for their failure in maintaining the integrity of the Lake and for imposition of suitable penalties. One also wishes t the Tribunal takes into account various tourism activities that are being conducted in and around the Lake by the MP State Tourism Corporation against the environmental norms and issues suitable directions.