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 around them. 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.