DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 47 :: Insane Municipal Corporation

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I have had to come back again to the subject of our Upper Lake that seems like is being killed by the government and its custodian the municipal corporation. A report that appeared in an English language local newspaper talked of how the municipality’s Upper Lake-centric recreational projects are going to prove to be harmful for it.

Subhash Pande, a green activist has expressed concern about various initiatives of the Municipal Corporation in and around the lake that in no way are going to improve the quality of its waters or enhance its life. The Corporation is mostly trying to provide more means of entertainment and relaxation to attract greater numbers of visitors to the Lake side. In fact, if one looks at the plans it would seem that left to the Corporation the Lake would have a ring of places providing entertainment around it. From boating, to food parks, musical fountains and several view-points, all are being planned or are under execution. As it is the Lake has to bear the burden of thousands of visitors every day who assemble at the Boat Club to the detriment of its waters.

While the green activist has dealt with the denial of the authorities to make public the report of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad containing proposals for “wise use” of the wetland, creating again an access for a view point from the VIP road for a view point that was once given up for environmental reasons and the retaining wall that was being raised and was not demolished despite the orders of the chief minister there are other concerns that have somehow been missed.

A mention needs to be made of a news report regarding a multi-crore project of installation of musical fountains and organizing a laser show not far from the Boat Club.  An e-tender was issued for the purpose almost a year back after the laser show at Neelam Park on the Lower Lake had to be discontinued for want of audiences. It was reported that the laser show was making a loss of around six lakhs per annum - not a very big amount, but an enormous waste of financial, material and human resources for creation of the necessary infrastructure for the ill-conceived laser show had already been incurred. An auditorium was built for the purpose which is now lying unused. When the show was not attracting crowds the Corporation officials had remarked that the site for the show was not properly chosen. Had it been located somewhere on the Upper Lake it would have drawn crowds of spectators. They just didn’t realize that a heavy daily dose of shows of whether of laser or dancing fountains wouldn’t attract crowds for long on a daily basis.

That very idea is probably being taken forward and hence the e-tender. A news item today mentioned a new auditorium for 600 people is likely to be built somewhere near the Boat Club for projection of history of Bhopal on a wall of water created on the Lake with the help of a hundred-odd nozzles.

The Corporation seems to have a never-say-die attitude and all the time works on peripheral issues instead of the fundamental ones. In its efforts to please the people by making provision of such means of entertainment instead of trying to do the basic work of providing to them clean, unpolluted drinking water from the Lake. Crores of rupees have been sunk in this kind of effort but it is not concerned about sewage draining into the lake from as many as nine drains without the intervention of treatment plants.

Apparently, there is nobody to check all the ill-conceived projects and profligacy of the Municipal Corporation. Environmental authorities including the Pollution Control Board are mute witnesses to the excesses of the Corporation on the Upper Lake particularly when the Lake is not in a healthy state. And, what the Corporation is doing is to further damage an unhealthy Lake. Experts who used to come to attend workshops in EPCO around ten years ago used to say that collection of large numbers of people on the banks of the Lake was injurious to it. But the Corporation, in collaboration with the local tourism outfit, tried to do just that and that too successfully. Today the situation is so alarming that reports say that parking of vehicles is causing problems at the Boat Club. People in such large numbers come to the Boat Club which is precisely the place where such large numbers of cars are not supposed to be.

In fact, in a similar situation in a western country the authorities there would not have allowed construction of a road like the VIP road that we have or a highway along the lake. According to their environmentalists, even automobile traffic at close proximity to a body of water is harmful for its waters. Here, of course, the VIP Road was a dire need with fast-developing congestion on the conventional road from the airport and once it was built it became a fait accompli – nothing could be done about it regardless of the heavy traffic that plies on it.

Pande has rightly said that the need to address the internal condition of the Lake is urgent. Its waters continue to be polluted by sewage flowing into it despite the orders of the local bench of the National Green Tribunal. Besides the catchments of the Lake have to be taken care of to ensure that farms therein engage in organic farming and constructions there also are kept to the minimum. Likewise, the beds of its feeder streams have to be kept clear of encroachments. All these essential activities are neglected and, strangely, projects are consistently drafted for works that are harmful for the Lake.

The Municipal Corporation seems to have gone insane; there does not seem to be no other word for it.


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