|Dead fish floating in Upper Lake, Bhopal|
The so called Bhopal “Sthapna Diwas” was celebrated with fanfare in the evening of last Thursday at the Boat Club which sits close to the bank of the Upper Lake. At the very outset it needs to be re-stated that this lake is a wetland of international repute and has been declared a Ramsar Site and is an Important Bird Area. The custodian of the Lake, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, draws water from it for supplies to a little less than half the population of the city.
Having set the record straight one has to say it emphatically that the ceremony – unwarranted and uncalled for – was in complete disregard of the dire condition of the Lake where, of late, fish have been dying for want of adequate oxygen. It is highly polluted and the assembly of thousands of people on its banks, as has become a matter of regular occurrence, is against all environmental norms for protection of a prime wetland. On top of all this was the display of fireworks – again uncalled for and unwarranted – was highly ill-advised. While all the carbon of the fireworks was blown towards the lake and eventually settling down on its waters the fire on the hill opposite the Boat Club caused avoidable destruction of the surrounding flora and fauna.
(I have written elsewhere about the Sukhna Lake of Chandigarh where nothing is allowed on its banks – no food stalls or kiosks or any other establishment. Recently a massive housing project in its catchments was disallowed by the Punjab & Haryana High Court. So much care is being taken, unlike the lake of Bhopal, of the Sukhna Lake, a lake that was created only around sixty years ago, when its waters are not used for drinking and the Lake is not a wetland of international importance.)
It has been noticed for some time that the government has been wearing its total apathy for this thousand-year old lake on its sleeve and its progressive degradation. It has not released for the last three years the report of the Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology on conservation of the Lake and its catchments where constructions are reportedly progressing without let or hindrance. While the Municipal Corporation is busy in making cosmetic changes in its surroundings it does nothing to prevent sewers to empty into it. Even the government does not do anything about building sewage treatment plants (STPs) for these drains whereas it has assured STPs for all the drains that empty into River Narmada.
The latest big bash on the Lake, therefore, shows utter disdain of the government and its chief executive for the most valuable asset of the people of Bhopal. One does not know who cleared the programme but, I am sure, the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation would neither have the power nor the money to mount such an elaborate celebration. There must have been political directions and a diktat from the government which, apparently, couldn’t care less if the water body was further damaged.
This was the first celebration of the so called “Sthapna Diwas” which, according to reports, commemorates the merger of Bhopal 68 years ago in the Indian Union. All through the past 67 years the government did not remember the date of merger and, never felt the need to celebrate it. Suddenly, out of the blue, this year it decided to hold a celebration. Obviously it is a ploy to delude the people. One programme associated with the Narmada Seva Yatra had to be cancelled on account of the sudden demise of the Central Environment Minister who was to attend it. The government was, therefore, apparently looking for an excuse to hold a big bash and they fished out this long forgotten date.
Looks like, the chief minister has been under pressure for some time and he has been trying to divert attention from the allegations against him of involvement of the members of his immediate family in illegal sand mining. The Opposition, the Indian National Congress, has gone hammer and tongs after him and, for once, has been right in effectively mounting on the chief minister a direct attack. And so has a former minister of the chief minister’s cabinet who has filed a case against sand mining in Narmada with the Bhopal Bench of the National Green Tribunal.
There are numerous issues involved with these celebrations. The first question that occurs in one’s mind is why, out of the blue, these celebrations were held when during the last 68 years nobody ever thought of celebrating it. There has to be motive behind it. One newspaper has gone on to describe it as the day when people of Bhopal won “freedom”. But it has not been explained as to why the attainment of “freedom” was not celebrated all these years This is nothing but spreading untruth and obfuscating the fact of merger of Bhopal state. While it is true that the then Nawab had procrastinated on deciding merger of his principality into the Indian Union but eventually he was left with no other alternative.
To say that the people of Bhopal won their freedom on 1st June 1949 is nothing but an attempt to muddle the issue. Before that date the people of Bhopal had as much or as little freedom as those in other princely states that merged with the Union. Besides, if the date of merger of Bhopal needs to be celebrated, the government should also celebrate the anniversaries of merger of Gwalior, Indore and numerous other former princely states that merged into the Indian Union. After all Madhya Pradesh was constituted of only former princely states barring the areas of former British India like Mahakaushal
In point of fact, from all evidences the “Sthapna Diwas” as an ill-thought out celebration which wasted a few crores from government exchequer and, in the process, dumped tons of pollutants, including, carbon into the Lake.
I am posting this on the eve of the World Environment Day in the hope that better sense will prevail among the politicians and bureaucrats to take care and protect this gift of legendary Raja Bhoj who was so concerned about water needs of his subjects more than a thousand years ago.