Is Gaur sincere about saving Upper Lake of Bhopal?
Posted October 30, 2009on:
Madhya Pradesh minister of urban development and Bhopal gas disaster relief and rehabilitation Babulal Gaur is a man of action. He is the oldest member (in age as well as experience) of the Shivraj Singh Chauhan cabinet and remains more active than his younger colleagues. But his hyperactivity is not always in the best interests of the people or sections sought to be served. He was also minister in charge of the Bhopal gas disaster relief and rehabilitation in the Sunderlal Patwa government in the early 1990s and it was during that time that winding up of whatever projects were functioning for the medical and economic rehabilitation of the gas victims was set in motion. He had the audacity to declare in the Assembly in 1991 that the gas victims were now quite well off and did not need any more assistance.
Gaur is now paying his full attention to the Upper Lake, which is considered the lifeline of Bhopal. The Lake, which had completely dried up (the scanty rains in the past couple of years being only one of the causes) leading to an unprecedented drinking water crisis for the residents of the State capital this year, is now near full, thanks to the belated rains. Gaur has taken an initiative to conserve the Lake. But will he be able to protect it from the predators — the builders and the IAS officers? Gaur’s past record is not very encouraging even in such matters.
The Upper Lake, constructed over a thousand years ago by Raja Bhojdev mainly for irrigation in the region, spanned 250 square miles, according to A.L.Basham, the author of “The Wonder that was India”. Now its area has shrunk to around six square kilometres. This situation has not come about all of a sudden. This important source of drinking water has been molested systematically. Constructions including hotels and restaurants have been permitted on the encroached lands on its banks. The Lake was converted into a major centre of water sports and cruising for pleasure, as well as for mud racing (a favourite pastime of the top bureaucrats). Not only that, the encroached Upper Lake land – not small chunks but measuring 150 acres — had been found being used for agricultural purposes. These encroachments did not occur in months but over decades and in connivance with the officials and the politicians in power—at least in their full knowledge.
Gaur had recently invited representatives of different sections of society to seek their views on how to conserve the Upper Lake. There was a good gathering and valuable suggestions were made. Almost every one felt that the encroachments should be ruthlessly removed and those trying to encroach around the Lake should be sternly dealt with. The other suggestions included that no commercial activity should be permitted around the Lake, it should not be converted into a tourism centre and it should not be disturbed in the name of beautification. Significantly, the representative of an NGO reminded Gaur how unresponsive he had been to the NGO’s demand to remove encroachments around the Upper Lake in the past. Gaur kept quiet.
Even if Gaur has a change of heart and wants sincerely to work for the conservation of the Lake, will he be able to do so? It was the BJP government of the early 1990s (of which Gaur was an important member) that had allowed commercial constructions around the Lake by circumventing the Madhya Pradesh High Court order to the contrary. More constructions around the Lake are proposed in the new Master Plan prepared by the present BJP government which is, for all practical purposes, working under the guidance of the builders’ lobby. Even some ministers are said to be eyeing the land around the Lake.
The suggestions made at the meeting convened by Gaur are simple, clear and implementable if only Gaur is sincere and has the requisite will power. He will then, first and foremost, have to check the designs of the IAS lobby. Soon after the meeting that Gaur had convened, some IAS officers were said to have mulled over the idea that “experts” should be invited for consultations about how to conserve the Upper Lake and other lakes in Bhopal. That will, in effect, mean the end of Gaur’s initiative, because there is a set pattern to such happenings. After “experts” have given their opinions, a committee will be constituted to prepare a project report and then funds will be sought from an agency like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank and by the time the project is completed, some politicians, contractors and IAS officers will be richer by a few crore of rupees each and the Lakes will remain, at best, where these are today.
The bureaucratic “initiative” for conservation of the Upper Lake was taken in the mid-1990s also. For this purpose the State government had got a Japanese loan of Rs 197 crore, which was later extended to Rs 247 crore. The project, named the Bhojwetland, aimed at the deepening, dredging, desilting and widening of the Upper Lake and diverting the large number of sewers from discharging into the Upper and Lower Lakes. The amount of Rs 247 crore has long been spent but the Upper Lake has shrunken further, more of its shores have been encroached and nearly sixty sewers still flow into the two Lakes. According to official figures, nearly 15 million litres of sewage pours into the Upper Lake daily and over 34 MLD (million litres daily) into the Lower Lake.