Friday, April 28, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 51 :: Ex-President's roundabout razed

Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma
For years the statue of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma presided over the VIP Road that provides entry to Bhopal from its northern parts standing on an elevated pedestal surrounded by tiers of blooming foliage. It dominated the tri-junction that includes the roads to both, new and old Bhopal. For the city to have honoured him thus was, in fact, as it should have been, for if Bhopal today is the capital of Madhya Pradesh it is because of him. Unfortunately, to meet the demands of modern-day life and burgeoning vehicular traffic his statue had to be moved and the once-huge rotary of which his statue was the centre point had to be razed. Today it stands forlorn shrouded by a dusty looking cloth in a nearby small park that is hardly green for a park and is far too small and dry in comparison to its former habitat.

Historically speaking more than fifty years ago a tussle opened up among the three major towns in the proposed new state of Madhya Pradesh. It seems the States Re-organisation Commission had not recommended any specific town to be designated as the capital of the new state. The three major towns - Gwalior, Indore and Bhopal – entered the fray and claimed to be the most suitable for being designated as capital. Gwalior and Indore had an edge as both used to be winter and summer capitals for Madhya Bharat, a major Part B State that was to merge into the new Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal was much smaller but it too was the capital of Part C State of Bhopal state.

As the contest heated up Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, then chief minister of Bhopal State, got into the act. He repeatedly visited Delhi, Gwalior and Indore pushing the case of Bhopal holding rallies and addressing public meetings. (I remember to have heard him speak at a public meeting in Gwalior in 1956.) His indefatigable efforts yielded results and Bhopal was chosen to be the capital of the new state of Madhya Pradesh. Later, he was inducted into the Union Cabinet. Soon, he was elected as the Vice President of India. The ascent to the highest post in the country proved to be a natural corollary. It was a great honour for Bhopal as he was its product. Raised in his ancestral house in the Chowk area and then retiring as head of the Indian State was nothing short of a remarkably great achievement.

Having spent lakhs of rupees in raising a dignified monument to honour Dr. Sharma it was a pity that his statue had to be removed and treated with so much indignity. Bhopal has a history of creating rotaries, enlarging them, decorating them and even planting a statue in each of them of mostly ‘un-worthies’ with a very few exceptions at substantial cost to the public exchequer. Later came a time to reduce the sizes of the rotaries – in some cases little by little, in some others, cutting their sizes by a heavy hand. Currently it is the era of undoing everything that was done before by removal of rotaries and along with them the statues that were installed in the middle of them. Apparently, in doing all this the money spent has been of no consequence; all this is being done to manage the rising volumes of vehicular traffic with the help of new technology of red, green and amber lights.

One wonders whether what is being done is right. There is a contrarian opinion that traffic roundabouts work and they work beautifully saving injuries to commuters and even their lives. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety of America, roundabouts reduce accidents by 40%, injuries nearly by 80% and fatalities by 90%. The Old Street roundabout in Shoreditch, London has been dubbed the “Silicone Roundabout” with a message that roundabouts are an engineering breakthrough that saves lives and limbs. Howard McCullough is reckoned as the roundabout specialist of New York where the Department of Transportation is considered more advanced when it comes to its Roundabout Programme. He is fascinated by the burgeoning roundabouts of England. There is no denying the fact that roundabouts have their positive side. Traffic necessarily has to slow down at a roundabout reducing fatalities and even injuries, while the traffic keeps flowing evenly in the absence of lights at the intersections to stop it.

In New Delhi there are huge roundabouts and the traffic generally flows evenly. Of course, occasionally it has to be manually managed when impatient commuters try to overtake by by breaching traffic rules. The human element is vital for its success when new technology is introduced. Sophisticated technology cannot prove to be successful unless those who work it or those who have to act out according to its requirements have a change of heart. Obeying “rules of the road” is a cardinal requirement for a commuter who chooses to use a public road. If he does not do so he will put his life and those of others at peril.

Only time will tell whether Bhopal has taken the right decision to get rid of all the roundabouts along with their statues. In the meanwhile however, the statue of the Late President languishes abandoned in a drab corner of an un-pretty park. 

28th April 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our Life, Our Times :: 8 :: Lake conservation via judicial intervention

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh
This news will certainly give new hope to those who have been fighting to save the Upper Lake in Bhopal and its catchments. The Delhi High Court recently directed the Chandigarh Administration to revoke the permission granted to the ambitious Tata Camelot Project that planned to erect skyscrapers in the vicinity of Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh. The court decided that the plot of land in question fell within the catchment area of the lake. The States of Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh were asked to not only stop construction activities in the catchment area but also to demolish any construction that may have taken place against the mandate of the High Court. The order has been passed while deciding the pending “Save Sukhna” case.

The Tata Camelot project has had a chequered history. Initiated by Punjab MLAs (past and present) somewhere around the beginning of this Century, they expected a windfall on completion of the project. The partnership with the House of Tatas was established around a decade ago. Every MLA was to get Rs. 82.5 lakhs and a luxury flat in exchange for his land of 500 sq.yds. that was allotted to each one of them.

The matter came to the notice of the Punjab & Haryana High court through a news report prompting the court to take suo motu cognizance. The report said as many as nine residential towers of 12 to 35 storeys would dot the Chandigarh’s skyline. The High Court felt that the development revealed “disturbing state of rapid and unregulated urbanization”. However in 2013, the court, quite inexplicably, gave permission to the project saying that prohibition orders on construction in the area were not applicable to it and that the project could continue subject to obtaining all necessary clearances. The petitioners approached the Supreme Court claiming the project will damage not only the Sukhna Lake but also the fledgling Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary.

 The Apex court stayed the housing project and reversed the go-ahead given by the Punjab & Haryana High Court and transferred the plea to Delhi High Court to decide the matter. Chandigarh is a centrally administered territory and, perhaps, hence the transfer to the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court, on examining the Survey of India maps came to the conclusion that the area in question actually fell within the catchment area of the lake and no construction on it could be allowed. The Court referred the matter to the Punjab Government to reconsider the permission given to Tatas for pursuing the project.

The initial permission was given by the panchayat of the village concerned. According to the DNA newspaper the Rs. 1800 crore project was to come up on 59.39 acres with construction of more than 92 thousand flats (?) in 19 towers. Curiously, the case was earlier taken up by the Punjab & Haryana High Court and even in 2013 it did not consider transferring the matter to National Green Tribunal, Northern Region. Neither did the Supreme Court seem to have felt it necessary to ask the Tribunal to decide the case instead of the Delhi High Court though the matter related essentially to the subject of environment.

 Nonetheless, it is a significant example of how the political class expropriates, annexes and seizes public lands and other natural resources for its own benefit, mostly by hoodwinking or browbeating the official institutions. That they appropriate for themselves various other unwarranted benefits at the cost of the general public’s welfare is now well known. One wouldn’t be surprised if this class put pressure on the Punjab & Haryana High court for a favourable decision that was eventually challenged in the Apex Court

It may be of interest to know that Sukhna Lake is of recent origin as the idea for it was floated by the architect of Chandigarh, Le Corbusier. It was created in early 1950s by damming the River Sukhna. It does not supply drinking water to any section of the population of Chandigarh. The intention was only to provide a water body for the new planned city. And, yet its catchment area is considered sacrosanct. No construction is allowed in it and, more importantly, no motorised boat can ply on it and no food stalls or other establishments like restaurants etc. allowed anywhere near it. The other important thing is that it has a well defined catchment area indicated in none other than Survey of India maps.

On the other hand, in comparison Bhopal presents a very sad picture in regard to conservation of its millennium old Upper Lake. For a long time the government of Madhya Pradesh did not even know where the catchments of the Lake began and where they ended. It was perhaps only the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) which for the first time defined the limits of the catchment area. But, there is hardly any sanctity attached to it. Constructions in it are reportedly continuing without let or hindrance and, perhaps, the authorities concerned are winking at it. And, the NGT, though locally situated, is struggling to get rid of the so-called “marriage gardens” that are not only plumb within the catchments, they are also polluting the Lake through their discharges of waste. Besides, the Boat Club is the biggest polluter where there are food and beverages stall, eating joints and the ubiquitous hawkers hawking packaged or freshly made snacks. Besides, motorised boats, including one that serves snacks and food also ply on the Lake, despite a prevailing ban. All this when the Lake is the source of water for not 10 or 20 or 30% of the population; it is the source for a huge chunk of 40%.

The Bhopal Lake is, in fact, nobody’s baby. It is a recognized wetland of international importance, a Ramsar Site to boot, but no measure is ever taken to protect it or conserve it. It is a prime example of indifference and apathy by those who are supposedly in charge of its conservation. Much was expected from the National Green Tribunal but the hopes have been totally belied. The alternative now seems to be a surge by civil society to force action by the government. Otherwise presumably the prediction made by the CEPT may come true. In twenty years time, as predicted, the Lake, might remain in its present form but it will cease to be of any use for the citizens; its waters will be unfit for human consumption.

Curiously, things have come down to such a level that environmentalists have to take recourse to courts for protecting or conserving natural assets to enable them to issue suitable directions to those who are charged with the responsibility of taking care of them. Things that should be done in ordinary course for the well being of the environment for sustaining life are neglected and unfortunately allowed to be misappropriated by the moneyed and the greedy.

One wonders whether it is time for Bhopal Citizens’ Forum to fight for an award to the Upper Lake of the status of a “living entity” so that all the rights that accrue to the citizens also accrue to it. Given the apathy of the government, perhaps this is the only way the Upper Lake built by Raja Bhoj a thousand years ago can be saved and perpetuated for posterity. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Destinations :: Nainital (1980)

At the IIPA, New Delhi
In 1980 I was back in Delhi for a nine-month course in Public Administration conducted in the prestigious Indian Institute of Public Administration.  It was somewhat like back to the class rooms with a lecturer haranguing around three dozen mid-level bureaucrats – some of whom were of the senior level in breach of the accepted norms of selection. They were thus poaching on a course meant for mid-level central government officers. I recall at least two Joint Secretaries and an Additional Secretary joining the crowd. In Delhi anything is possible if one had the right connections. These worthies were, in fact, not there to get trained as they had had some training already at fancy institutions abroad. They were there to mark time for a fresh assignment in Delhi. In the meantime they could retain the official accommodation and get paid for staying in Delhi with a stint in IIPA – and a foreign trip of two weeks as bonus. Bending rules is so common in Delhi for well-connected bureaucrats.

All this, however, is beside the point. For us lesser mortals the course
At the IIPA again
exposed us to subjects that we had never come across in the past and then there was the dissertation at the end which could give us a certificate of M Phil. Many officers with science background found the Programme very useful as they were not quite familiar with Humanities that, actually, ticks many departments of the government. It was a good cross section of the government of India – from the Indo Tibetan Border Police to the IAS, of course, and CPWD and a smattering of Central Services. Also thrown in were two Bangladeshis of their administrative services and a Chinese Malaysian who was from the Malaysian Administrative and Diplomatic Services. If one shook the lot well it would produce a good mix; that is what the Advanced Professional Programme in Public Administration was.

Being married I got a suite of rooms in the hostel on the second floor climbing up and down which took some toll of my developing paunch. My wife was resigned to be bored through the long day. She made friends with the wives of the resident faculty and spent some time with them. Otherwise a quiet life with occasional excursions by buses from the Ring Road right round the whole of New Delhi to go to its south to meet friends.
On Nainital lake

Two three holidays came by in October and we decided to go to Nainital – a hill station in the state of Uttar Pradesh, till then in one piece and undivided. It was on the foothills of the Outer Himalayas and was located at more than 6000 ft above the sea level with a pear-shaped lake in the valley. Though close to the Himalayas, one cannot see any part of it from the town, surrounded as it is by high hills. To get a glimpse of the white ranges one had to climb up to one of the surrounding hills.
The place is of relatively recent origin. It was established only in 1841
on horse-back to view Himalayas
after the British won the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-1816. Through the early part of the 19th Century the place grew around the lake as a settlement and soon the British made it a health resort. Many Europeans found it a good escape from the heat of the Indian summers in the plains. Quickly all the necessary establishments came up – hospitals, schools and what have you. Some fine schools that came up have continued till today producing well-educated young men and women – the more famous of them being the Sherwood College producing gems like Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and the Bollywood thespian Amitabh Bachchan.

But, Nainital is more known for Jim Corbett and his exploits in the
Gurney House - residence of Jim Corbett
neighbouring Kumaon and Garhwal hills. Through the early part of the 20th Century Jim Corbett became a legend of sorts. His hunting expeditions without much paraphernalia that liquidated numerous man-eating tigers are the stuff that Kumaoni folklores are made of. In our college days we would lap up every word that he wrote describing his stalking of tigers and sometimes the stalking taking place the other way round. His “Man-eaters of Kumaon” and “Jungle Lore” became very popular. He had a way with words and his description of situations created thrill. It is a pity that he left India for, one believes, better pastures.

By the side of the Lake
 We reached in the morning and got into a non-descript hotel that was close to the famed Lake, from which the place got its name. It was cool and bracing in mid October. We had a couple of days and the agenda had boating on the lake, a trip up the surrounding mountains to see the Himalayan range and whatever else that could be managed.

I put my wife on a horse to go up the hill to see the Himalayas and I followed on foot. It was a tiresome climb up the hill and reminded me of the climb from Tangmarg to Gulmarg with my brother in the summer of 1957. The difference was that at the end of that climb in Kashmir what I saw was the sight of fantastic green meadows with horses lazily grazing on the green turf. Here it was a great disappointment. The Himalayas seemed to have hidden themselves behind a shroud of clouds which refused to move any which way to give us a glimpse. Taking in the ranges after ranges of Lower Himalayas that ran from east to west we commenced our return trip.

There was hardly any problem walking down that hill. Back in the hotel I hit the bed to take a well-deserved nap. After I woke up I found I was unable to move my legs. They refused to budge. I got panicky wondering whether I had been at the receiving end of a paralytic attack. My wife suggested a tablet of Brufen and I took it. After around
Together on the Lake
two hours the jam seemed to loosen up. Brufen had worked. Much later I happened to read that it was anti-inflammatory and hence it worked.

For want of time we couldn’t visit the Gurney House, residence of Jim Corbett. The time that was left was spent in boating on the lake and taking a spin around it. There must have been numerous other sights to see but we just didn’t have time. Nonetheless, one realized that it must have been a great town once upon a time but later it became a victim of the process of dumbing down that commenced with independence, more so in Uttar Pradesh – the Hindi heartland of the “desis” (natives).

*Photo of Gurney House is from internet

19th April 2017   

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 50 :: Disappearing trees of Bhopal

I have already written about one of the more significant statements of Murati Bapu, the Hindu religious leader who goes about giving religious and ethical discourses drawn mainly from Hindu epics. In another of his well-attended talks he was reported to have said that needless felling of trees is like killing a “sadhu” (a saint or an ascetic). He said that in the epic “Ram Charit Manas” saints have been said to be like trees, rivers, hills, etc. because, basically, they are benevolent, charitable, munificent and kind. They only do good to everybody and to everything in the physical world. They do not take away anything  from anybody and being beneficent they only hand out means of sustenance to the world. That is why he says that cutting down a tree is like killing something which is beneficial to us or something which is a do-gooder for everybody.

It seems, he had chosen just about the right venue for talking about felling of trees. Here in Bhopal the government and its agencies like the municipal corporation are ‘axe-happy’ in the same manner as people can sometimes be trigger-happy. On the slightest provocation they will go and bring down trees. They hardly ever think of saving a tree. Bhopal has lost enormous number of trees during the last decade or so.

Thousands of trees in the city were felled for the BRTS corridor which, as expected, has not lived up to its declared intentions of easing out the traffic mess in the city. Trees were felled for laying the Narmada pipeline to improve the water supply in the town. This too has not lived up to its announced objective as only recently it was in the news that despite water being brought all the way from Narmada some areas of the city still suffer from water shortages. Then for the laying of the third railway track between Bina and Bhopal a few more thousand trees in and around the city were cut down. A news item recently said that about 800 more trees are needed to be eliminated before completion of the project. Then, of course, there are usual felling of trees for widening of city roads and limitless urban expansion that the city has witnessed. During implementation of these projects no one ever thought of saving even the trees that could well stand wherever they were or relocating those which were decades old with a huge canopy hosting myriad species.

No wonder, a recent news report came out with a startling fact. It said that Bhopal’s green cover has shrunk from 66% to 22% in two decades. This discovery has been made as a result of a study undertaken by the reputed institution, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc), and the newspaper called its findings “Bhopal’s dark truth”. The study predicts that by 2018 the tree cover will shrink to 11% of the city’s area and by 2030 it will be a mere 4.10%. The study was reported to have been conducted by satellite borne sensors which compared images over decades and modelled past and future growth to determine rate of growth of urbanization in cities.

These figures prove that the city has progressively been denuded of trees by unplanned urbanization. Expansion of the city has taken its toll on the surrounding green hills and neighbouring farmlands. The city, in the process, lost its equable climate that was most suited for elders like yours truly. It was devoid of the extremes of temperatures, both in summers and in winters. While in summers it would not be as hot as, say, Gwalior; during winters it would not be as severely cold as Delhi. All that has been lost because of the mindless felling of trees in the pursuit of expansion and development. Our own home-based environmentalist, Subhash C, Pandey says “If I relate my study of rise in temperature to 8% in 12 years where the parametres were the same” the predicted shrinkage in tree cover to 11% “though shocking, is very much possible”.

This catastrophic situation has come about because of the environmental illiteracy of the local politicians and the bureaucracy, utter lack of foresight and the proclivity among them to make a quick buck by opening up the city for a construction spree. While colonies after new colonies were being sanctioned nobody seems to have bothered to insist on the builders to save the trees and plant trees around the built-up areas to compensate for the lost greenery. In the government there was only one Late Mahesh Buch who ‘greened’ the entire Arera Hill after the 74 Bungalows were built. Others never seemed to have bothered though they went on sanctioning opening up of more and more areas in the surrounding hills, farmlands and valleys for construction. The government must have had all the information about the disaster the town would face in the wake of unrestrained colonization of virgin hills and green valleys. It has an environmental think tank in the shape of Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO) and yet none seemed to have bothered.

The findings of the Indian Institute of Science cannot be taken lightly. After all, many of the effects of tree-loss in a massive scale are already perceptible. The city is already facing extreme heat in summers and the last winter too was extraordinary. But the government seems to be unconcerned. The IIsc report came out in the last week of last March but so far there has been no reaction.  No one expects any reaction from the local Municipal Corporation which is always ready with axes in the hands of its employees but are not worried or aware of the consequences of their actions. But the environmental department of the government should have reacted and at least said that the report would be examined for action. The government departments are, however, notorious for allowing various important reports pending for long periods. The example of the report of the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) is already before the people of the city. Nothing can really move the government. So, quite evidently it is business as usual – preemptive steps, if any, can wait till the city becomes an arid desert.

Surely, everybody in the government knows the consequences of shrinking tree cover. Not only there will be rise in temperature, there will also be water shortages. Even the ground water levels are likely to dip to precarious levels due to absence of trees. The rise in demand for energy would increase atmospheric pollution. And then the scourge of air pollution will take over with dry dust being freely blown around by the breeze carrying pm10 and pm2.5 right into the lungs of the citizens.
Murari Bapu may not have mentioned them but there are immense benefits that the trees bestow on humanity. An internet site has enumerated top 22 benefits of a tree some of the important ones being : trees clean air, they provide oxygen, trees conserve energy, they also cool the streets and the city, trees save water and prevent water pollution, they help prevent soil erosion, they provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife and, above all, they combat climate change.

One wonders whether those in the government would pay heed and act on what the IISc study revealed and stop felling of trees by enacting a law and plant as many trees as possible. The chief minister had announced two years back that a crore of trees would be planted in the city. Nobody knows whether that announcement was really followed up by action. This year he has raised the number to two crores to be planted along the banks of Narmada. Perhaps that too will also remain as an announcement.

In the absence of any official action one is inclined to think that only a strong civil society movement can force the government to take remedial action. One recalls the movement 2015 which forced the government to change the site for the proposed smart city. The movement was centred around cutting down of the green cover of Shivaji Nagar. Some such movement would make the government to see reason.

*Photo from tnternet of a magnanimous tree
15th April 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black tiger

Like most of us I have known about white tigers but I never knew that black tigers also existed. Black panthers yes, but never heard of black tigers. Logically speaking, if tigers can be white why couldn’t they be black? It is all a matter of pigments – melanism actually that causes the generally known colour of skins or hair to go haywire, so to say.

The Down to Earth magazine in its current issue has reported sighting of black tigers in Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha. The tigers were photographed with the help of camera-trap. A scanned copy of the published photograph is below.

A little research revealed that black tigers have had a long history. There have been reports of sighting of absolutely black tigers – say, like black panthers and there have been reports of black tigers with stripes of lighter black shades. Looks like, Odisha had registered a number of sightings. The ones photographed at Simlipal are, however, partially black with the stripes on the hind side and shoulders pronouncedly black. Closer to the camera, the black tiger looks pretty well-fed and a trifle aggressive even though the camera has caught only its profile.

12th April 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bhopal Notes :: 49 :: Godmen and river conservation

Concluding religious rituals being conducted on the river bank
Though I am advanced in age I happen to be markedly irreligious or, one might say, unspiritual. I do not go to temples, do not observe any religious routine at home and, like numerous others, I do not go out to spiritual congregations where the so-called godmen give discourses day after day. Godmen, somehow or other, get my goat especially after that nasty old man – Asa Ram Bapu, a wolf in human shape – was caught indulging in nefarious activties and is now cooling his heels in Bhopal’s Central Jail. He is perhaps the worst of his kind.

 One thought once his serial crimes against women is known to the people they would stop flocking around godmen of any kind. Sadly that did not happen. People, it seems, are in dire need of ethical and moral instructions by someone who looks and adorns himself as a spiritual kind. There seems to be a dire need for ethical pep talk as our society is getting soaked in venality, Many of those who hear him with patience could well be venal and corrupt. I have a belief that whoever has a catch in his personality unfailingly goes after these religious sermons in the hope getting pardon from the Almighty.

Recently, a spiritual leader had come and lectured in Bhopal. He apparently has the local chief minister as one of his followers as the latter ceremoniously received him at the airport and attended his first discourse. His discourses were covered in the vernacular press. From what I saw in the papers reporting on his statements somehow impressed me. I thought what he said about conservation of rivers was a kind of a slap on the face of the chief minister who is currently  running “Narmada Seva Yatra” that is claimed to be one of the biggest river conservation campaigns in the world.

What Murari Bapu, the spiritual leader, said was that instead of worshipping the rivers, people should “love” them if they wanted to conserve them. Hindus have always had an inclination to worship rivers calling them ‘Ma” or mother. At the same time they would abuse the rivers by polluting them, pumping sewage into them or mining sand from their banks and even from midstream.

Virtually, every big river, from Ganga and Jamuna to Narmada and Godavari and from Krishna to Kaveri, all and many more are considered holy and “aartis” (Hindu ritualized worship with the help of a number of brass oil lamps) are held on their banks. Simultaneously religious mantras are chanted collectively or devotional songs are sung in chorus by the assembled congregation, often broadcast with the help of loudspeakers.

 I have had occasions to witness such performances at Haridwar and Varanasi on the banks of the Ganga. Despite them Ganga remains as filthy and as polluted as ever; clothes are washed in it using toxic soaps, sewage and industrial effluents are channelized into it and half burnt dead bodies are thrown into it in the belief that the departed soul will find salvation. The decades-old Ganga Action Plan yielded very little as people generally do not care for Ganga – in Murari Bapu’s words, they do not “love” it enough. They use it as a channel to dispose of waste and rubbish.

This is true of most of the so-called holy rivers. Just as worshipping rivers is not enough, taking care of them in the way of the Narmada Seva Yatra proposes to do is also not enough. Prohibitive action needs to be taken in respect of that which damages the river.

If anything, sand mining in Narmada is the biggest cause of damage to the river and its ecology. The government of Madhya Pradesh has very cleverly skirted the issue and it has not mentioned a word in the “objectives” of the “Yatra” about banning illegal sand mining in, for example, Itarsi and Hoshangabad areas. That the River is being severely damaged because of the relentless sand mining does not seem to have registered with the government. Every other thing like flow of industrial effluents, encroachments destruction of forests, illegal tapping of its waters, etc. are mentioned but not sand mining.

One suspects, it has been omitted because political biggies are involved in exploiting this precious resource of the river. Unmindful of the damage it is doing to the river millions of tons of sand are excavated and dispersed to various parts of the state to feed the real estate industry. It is a big business; not only the illegal sand miners have been thriving, even the government officials working at various check points have prospered with the bribes that they get. Recent checks had revealed that among the illegal sand miners were many connected with politicians, even the ministers and their relatives.

Surprisingly it is not realised that Narmada cannot be conserved if it is stripped of its sands. One might establish sewage treatment plants wherever drains come and empty in the river, one might even take care of its catchments and plant a million trees on its banks but all these and many other steps would not be able to sustain the river unless sand mining in it is brought down to a sustainable level.

Smriti Kak Ramachandran, a journalist of note, had written in The Hindu that the environmental costs of illegal sand mining is far greater than what can be imagined. “From forcing the river to change its course, to affecting the groundwater tables and adversely impacting the habitat of micro-organisms, the ramifications of illegal sand mining are many.” Smt. Ramachandran has quoted Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan who says “Sand is important for ground water recharge, on a riverbed it acts as a link between the flowing river and the water table and is part of the aquifer.” Mr. Mishra also says that illegally dredged sand is equivalent to robbing water. Sand holds a lot of water and when it is mindlessly mined and loaded on trucks a lot of water is lost. Negative impact of illegal sand mining far outweighs the economic benefits, says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

Illegal mining of sand that is going on in a big way in the State in Chambal, Narmada or Betwa or numerous other rivers is likely to prove disastrous for the state in the long term. Agriculture might get adversely affected and the state may eventually turn out to be water-stressed. Sooner the government heeds the advice of Murari Bapu and starts respecting and loving the state’s rivers better it would be for the wellbeing of its people.

*Photo is from internet

10th April 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Destinations :: Goa (1979)

Basilica of Bom Jesus (from internet)
From Mahabaleshwar we headed towards Goa taking a day off at Kolhapur. At Kolhapur we were given to understand about a site close by called Panhala. Not very well know outside, it is an important place where Chhatrapati Shivaji, one of the greatest icons of Maharashtra, is stated to have spent more than 500 days. It is known for its fort which is supposed to be the largest of all Deccan forts. Panhala’s elevation is more than 3000 ft; the fort rises another 400 ft. affording a panoramic view of the valleys below. There was nothing other than the fort and the
Goan sunset
placeseemed to have had utter indifference from authorities. It looked to me to be ill-kept. Panhala was in the news recently for vandalism by Hindu Right-wing activists of the film sets of the film “Padmavati” being shot by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a film producer of note.

Two days later we were in Panjim, now known as Panaji. We had bookings in the Goa Tourism outfit at Panaji. Very well located, it had comfortable rooms. The Mandovi River was only a couple of minutes away, and more importantly, close to which we had found a restaurant
Colouful evening skies
which used to offer Goan food. As it was close to the Goa Secretariat lots of officials of Goa government used to patronize it during the lunch hour. They would have a quick lunch with a shot of cashew or coconut feni and rush back to office.

  It was a Goan pub actually and not a restaurant as along with food alcoholic beverages could also be bought and consumed. The Goa Tourism outfit did have a restaurant but we found this pub to our liking with lots of fish, prawns and shrimps in the menu done in Goan style.
Church of Immaculate Conception
Curries are what Goa is known for and. of course, the vindaloo. One needn’t say that those were very delicious meals that we had. In 1979 strangers as we were to Goan cuisine the food just overwhelmed us. During most of our stay of a week we tried other such places but we found this one very good and matching our tastes.  My memory is rather fuzzy about its name; I think it was Olympia or Olympus.

Portuguese influence was still palpable. The colonial laid back style of functioning was very evident. The most glaring example of this was the
At Anjuna Beach
habit of taking afternoon siesta that Goans had been unable to shake off till then. Most of the shopping and office establishments would be shut during the siesta hours. Centuries of Portuguese rule did have its impact. Portuguese was still spoken among many families and they were generally from among the elites. Konkani was the second language, we were told, spoken generally by Hindus. Goa used to have, and still has a mix of religions with Christians, Hindus and Muslims living together in the tiny territory. But, unlike in the rest of India where inter-religious strife erupts frequently, peace and quiet prevails in
Gold of the Goan skies
Goa – no religious schisms.

One could hear strains of Western music as the evening progressed. This was another sign of the Portuguese influence. Close to the Tourism outfit boys and girls would come together and either play on guitar or sing together what appeared to be Portuguese romantic or love songs. This would go on for quite some time well into the night but without, apparently, disturbing the neighbourhood.

We took a few packages. The first had to be the one to Old Goa or Velha Goa. Velha Goa was the capital of Adil Shah’s Bijapur dynasty in the 15th and early 16th Century when it was wrested away by the Portuguese who ruled over the territory for more than 400 years. The rule ended only when Goa was annexed by the Indian Union. The
Stained glas windows of Basilica
annexation was culmination of years of struggle by Goans against Portuguese Rule. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India lost patience with the Portuguese when numerous freedom fighters were shot dead in Goa. Though continuation of colonial rule in Goa was an anachronism in the second half of the 20th Century the Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar never tried to acknowledge it. French had already peacefully transferred their small Indian possessions to the government of India in early 1950s. For the military action in Goa
Sun going down through a cluster of palms
the Indian Government came in for the heaviest criticism from Western Powers and President John Kennedy was even reported to have said “the preacher (of non-violence) has been caught with his pants down in a brothel”.

Portuguese established their trading post and created a veritable religious town with several churches and cathedrals at Old Goa. It is from here that the Portuguese embarked on their spice trade across Asia.  While the remnants of pre-Portuguese Goa have been wiped out, there are several structures built by the Portuguese in their early years in Velha Goa are still intact. The most outstanding is the Basilica of Bom Jesus which also has the remains of St. Francis Xavier. Considered to be the best example of baroque architecture in India, the Basilica was consecrated about 400 years ago and is supposed to
Ruins of St. Augustine's church
be one of the oldest churches in India. From many aspects it appears as if the church is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier with numerous paintings relating to his life and his mortal remains have been kept in a silver casket and is exposed every ten years. I had an occasion to see it during its Exposition in 1980s. There are numerous other churches and cathedrals that are still standing and standing well. But the Church of St. Augustine is in ruins.

Goa is beautiful as you travel through its countryside to reach places like Madgaon or Vasco da Gama. Coconut groves keep you company and what is perhaps more beautiful is the sudden appearances of small impeccably white-washed churches that seem to emerge out of the
Sun setting in a riot of colours
lush green landscape. Every village apparently has a church which is well maintained making it a sight to behold.

The Goan beaches are what the tourists are taken to. We also did the rounds of Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and Vagator. As we were not the type to strip down to bare essentials and dive into the inviting waters, we wandered around beaches peopled with scantily clad or even unclad white men and women frolicking under the rather strong sun. They were apparently quite used to the hordes of tourists
St. Xavier's effigy in the Basilica
wandering around, sometimes some young men even ogling, but they displayed supreme indifference to them.

 It was the 1970s when Goa came into its own with hippies swarming into it from all corners of the world. Hippies had just discovered freedom and started migrating to freer pastures. Goa was excellent for them and was different from other Indian destinations. The locals were more used to the Western ways, whatever that might be, and were tolerant of their uninhibited ways. Here, therefore, they had absolute freedom on the beaches of Baga, Anjuna and Vagator. Arambol in North Goa was still to be discovered and Colva and Mojorda in the South were yet to find favour with the hippies. Life was amazingly uninhibited and liberated for them with day-long gamboling with their partners in the sun and, as it went
Another view of colourful Goan skies
down across the Arabian Sea, music and dance took over, maybe, with a shot of alcohol or drugs. It was indeed out of this world – sheer paradise.

A word must be said about the Goan flea markets. While coming back from North Goa we had a stop at a biggish town called Mapusa. And, lo and behold, there right in front was a flea market in full swing. Most of the stuff was oriented to the requirements of the foreigners but there were traditional items like village handicrafts. The crowd was mostly of foreigners who took a break from the beaches to buy brief apparels for their life on the beaches.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Remembering Father

My revered father’s 55th death anniversary fell on the 29th March of the current year. It was in 1962 that my mother and father arrived at Nagpur in the beginning of March. They were on their way to my second brother, now no more, who was at that time posted at Trivandrum. It was a long haul for them from Gwalior. Hence they decided to drop down at Nagpur for a few days. I was only a probationer having entered Indian Postal Service in June 1961.

On the very day they arrived father had a massive heart attack. A doctor whom a very dear friend got hold of said that it was beyond him and that we should consult somebody more qualified. In those days the Civil Surgeon of the district was considered the best physician. There were very few MDs and physicians with the qualification of DM were practically unavailable. Besides, there was hardly any treatment that could be given to a cardiac patient. There were no stents and cardiac surgery was largely unknown. A cardiac attack was actually considered a death sentence.

True enough, the Civil Surgeon said Father’s heart was far too enlarged and suggested oxygen support to him. He also wanted me to inform others in the family. Though I could never believe that I was going to lose my father soon, predictably suffering all the discomforts associated with a cardiac attack for about three weeks he passed away on 29th March.

Reflecting on his rather short life I find his was rather peculiar. Born in a family of landed gentry of what was then East Bengal he chose a life of deprivation and want. But he never regretted his choice though he was frequently badgered about it by my mother. After doing very well in his Middle Examination of the Dhaka Board he defied his father and refused to take care of the landed property. Being the only son, his father expected him to help out in dealing with matters relating to his substantial property. But no, he disappeared from his house and came away and stayed in the historical town of Chinsura by the side of River Hoogly. The place had a chequered history. The town was founded by the Portuguese who were later thrown out by the Dutch. The Dutch later traded the place with the British for their enclaves in Sumatra. Chinsura has some marvelous heritage buildings of which the government complex is one – exquisite and well-preserved.

Father did his matriculation from Chinsura and his name appeared in newspapers as he was among the merit holders. His family again tried to get him back dropping his studies but he would have none of it. He instead went over to Calcutta and did his graduation with double honours in Mathematics and English Literature in I Division from Scottish Church College. For post graduation in English Literature he moved into the famous Presidency College, now Presidency University. He couldn’t get a good grade as he had what was then known as brain fever just before the examinations, perhaps now described as encephalitis. For want of money he couldn’t take a drop and lose a year and eventually got a second class. It was 1916, more than a hundred years ago.

For a number of years he was involved in social work which included organizing funerals for unclaimed bodies. Hunger was a curse and many would, it seems, drop down dead on the streets of Calcutta out of sheer hunger. He and his friends would pick them up and perform their last rites. Father later travelled to Lahore where one of his friends fixed him up in Sanatam Dharm College to teach English. The name of the College, I understand, had been changed on creation of Pakistan. It must have proved to be an incongruity in Islamic Pakistan.

But much before that father came away to Ujjain to teach in Madhav College and was later transferred to Gwalior and was appointed lecturer in Victoria College, then the only degree college in the princely state of Gwalior. He served in this college for 16 or 17 years and retired at the age of 55 in 1951, the age of superannuation prevailing those days. But then, he had another 10 years of service as principal of a newly opened intermediate college in the badlands of Morena, a place known more for its gun-toting dacoits than anything else. The College was later upgraded to a higher status and it became a degree college. It was largely on account of his efforts that the University approved the upgrade.

 He was picked up for this position after his retirement by the minister of education of Madhya Bharat, Madhya Pradesh had not been created till then. He was chosen because of his affable ways with the students, which seems to have become evident to the minister during the negotiations that were being conducted for dealing with the students’ movement that was then raging in Gwalior. The union leaders had complete trust and confidence in him. They wanted him to negotiate with the government for settlement of their demands. The student leaders like Naresh Johri and Sitla Sahay, who later became ministers in Madhya Pradesh government, went underground for fear of being arrested. They would slip into our house on the sly in the darkness of night while still underground to ascertain the progress of negotiations and to brief father about their views.

Father had always been well-regarded by the students of the College. In those days the students were few – perhaps the strength was around 200, against the current general strength of about a couple of thousands or more. Besides, they generally used to be from middle classes and were well brought up. He remained the professor in-charge of the students’ union for a number of years. His active participation in social, cultural and sporting activities brought him very close to the students. Besides, his notes written on Shakespeare’s plays were very popular amongst students of the sister colleges affiliated to Agra University.

This apart, in those days teachers were highly respected in the society. It was knowledge, not money that was respected. Even where power and riches were the preserves of the feudal land-holders, knowledge was what was respected and those who had it were revered. Comparison with the current times is futile as neither are there teachers of that kind, nor are the pupils like those of yore. A social degradation seems to have progressively overtaken the Indian society during the last half a century swamping all standards of cultured and ethical behaviour.

Looking at his life from this distance of fifty five years or so one can only wonder about distiny. Take my father’s destiny, for instance. Born in the far corner of the north-east in Sushong of Moimonsingh District of East Bengal under the shadows of Garo Hills, where the sun rises an hour earlier than in our parts, destiny took him from from place to place in various parts of the country during his sixty five years only to find his final resting place plumb at the centre of the country – far, far away from his moorings Those sixty five years were neither easy nor comfortable. He discarded the old feudal order and the comforts and luxuries that his rich father could offer. Instead he chose enlightenment and education even at the risk of penury. Obviously, he was a seeker of knowledge and that led him to a life which was strewn with difficulties.

 And yet he seemed to have had no regrets. Leaving the home that was a tiny spec on the map of East Bengal and stepping out of it into territories that were virtually foreign in those early years of 20th Century must have been difficult, especially for an ordinary young man without any financial backing. Gutsy, as he seemed to have been, he had confidence in himself to survive and intellectually prosper. Forward looking as he was, it was he who persuaded all of us to take the competitive examinations which, he thought, were well within our grasp and success in them would ensure a good and respectable life. In the backwaters of Gwalior many did not even know about these examinations and where success in them could lead to. When my eldest brother qualified for the IAS father had to explain to many what it actually meant.

Times have since drastically changed and I think it was good that he went away when he actually did. The current times are not for straight and honest people like him who could command and control unpleasant situations with the sheer strength of moral and ethical power. No wonder, he was unruffled by many threats to his life given by students of the violent badlands of dacoit-infested Chambal Region. His good-natured conduct with his students and keenness to help them any which way endeared him to them.

 Today it is entirely different; the virtues of ethics and morality are mocked and laughed at to the discomfiture of those who practice them. The society seems to be faced up with a tremendous deficit in values that older generations used to hold since birth close to their heart.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...