DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 41 :: Days are numbered for fancied Upper Lake

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Nobody seems to be overly rattled by the threat of the Upper Lake disappearing in the next twenty years unless proper care is not taken of it and its catchments. That the Lake was under this kind of a threat was mentioned by Saswat Bandyopadhyay, Professor in the faculty of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), a reputed training and research institution based at Ahmedabad during an interview with a local vernacular daily. He was here in connection with a seminar on Smart and Resilient Cities Integrating Approaches. He has a number of years of experience in the field of urban infrastructure and environmental management.

Apparently, because of his close association with the preparation of the master plan for development and conservation of the Upper Lake on behalf of the CEPT that was given the consultancy for the purpose by the state government he was asked questions relating to future of the Lake. It may be recalled that the CEPT prepared the Master Plan after a detailed study of the Lake and its catchment areas and submitted the same to the MP Government in 2013. The report is stated to be under examination since then. One wonders how many years a government with its huge paraphernalia should take to examine the report and a plan submitted by the consultants whom it had appointed - what is under submission is, after all, not rocket science that is beyond the comprehension of the government. It must be something more than what meets the eye – something that smells very, very fishy.

Bandyopadhyay’s interview revealed something dark and sinister about the Lake. He said that if steps were not taken in accordance with the Plan submitted by CEPT the Lake could disappear in the next twenty years. In this connection, one recalls that three researchers from three different universities had studied the Lake in detail a few years ago and had opined that unless conservational efforts were made the Lake could disappear in around eighty years. Obviously, during the intervening period, the time available to restore the Lake has appreciably shrunk and it has now come down to only twenty years. Quite clearly it is terminally sick and given the government’s couldn’t-care-less attitude it could die within the lifetime of numerous of those who drink its waters (of course, after treating it) and haunt the Boat Club on its shores for entertainment and recreation.

While the Mayor, who is the chairman of the Empowered Committee for conservation of the water body, got rattled – but only for a short while – there has been no reaction from the state government. In so far as the state government and its concerned departments are concerned the words of Saswat Bandyopadyay seem to have fallen on deaf ears. There seems to be an ill feeling in the government against the CEPT represented by Bandyopadhya for the simple reason that his report refused to say what the government wanted to hear. Hence the report has been suppressed and is likely to be killed by sheer inaction. The government wouldn’t mind its money going down the drain if the political objectives are not met.

 Because of the unconscionable delay the Citizens’ Forum had appealed to the National Green Tribunal to issue directives to the government to make the report public. Though it has been shown to the NGT, and that was more than six months ago, yet it has not been made public. Clearly, the government does not like the report; if that is the case nothing prevents it from rejecting the report. But no, it has taken to the typical bureaucratic way of allowing it to gather dust and rot.

While Mayor has called a meeting of the Empowered Committee reportedly after 27 months the report seems to have provoked a reaction from the government’s Environment Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO). A so-far-unknown Wetland Conservation Authority functioning under the EPCO seems to have woken up and has called a meeting of all government stakeholders of the Upper Lake. One wonders where this Wetland Authority was all these years and why it was kept hidden from public view by the powers that be and what exactly it has done to prevent degradation of the Lake. Anyway, its meetings may hardly yield anything positive as it is the political head of the state that has to take a decision in respect of the CEPT report.

Saswat also seems to have said that the (ill) effects of inaction on the CEPT report will be visible in around five years’ time. Besides, the unrestricted construction and encroachments in the catchments of the Lake will also reveal their impact around the same time. That construction is going unabated is apparent as I can see new clusters of light across the shores little away from Bishenkhedi.  According to Saswat, natural flow of water into the Lake is being hampered and, obviously, unless this is checked its Full Tank Level (FTL) is going to shrink as also its catchment area. He also mentioned that since the Lake straddles the districts of Bhopal & Sehore it is difficult to coordinate action for its conservation. The people of Sehore do not drink its waters and, hence, they merrily carry on with their chemical farming.

The newspaper pointed out in brief some of the issues that are there in the CEPT report. From it, it seems, what got the goat of the government was perhaps the recommendation to ban construction and housing projects inter alia in Bhauri and Phanda where heavy constructions have already taken place. Bhauri was developed as an institutional area against the advice of Late Mahesh Buch who was against implementation of projects there as the place had no water. True enough, sometime back there was a proposal to supply water to Bhauri from the Upper Lake. In Phanda Aakriti builders were handed over a huge area of land where low rise housing is coming up. Similar allotment of lands was made to others too for housing projects knowing full well that the area fell in the catchment area.

The business of allotment of land and construction on them provide attractive spin offs for the greedy politicians, bureaucrats and sundry minions. And hence the CEPT report is just not acceptable, especially when the next election is round the corner. In making such an allotment some years ago to Chirayu Hospital and Medical College near Phanda the politicians, bureaucrats and municipal officials revealed their greed and exposed themselves to ridicule. The frontage of the hospital gets flooded even if the town gets below-average rainfall. It is situated plumb in the catchments of the Lake.

Hence, the Upper Lake’s is a gone case. Its sources Kolhans and Uljhawan rivers will be exterminated starving it of water and eventually leading it to its death. The local government with its greedy politicians and bureaucrats in active collaboration with the real estate lobby will see to it that the Lake succumbs to the multi-pronged assaults made on it.


*Photo from internet
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