The Threatened Lake of Bhopal

I am sorry I have again to go back to the subject of the Upper Lake of Bhopal. Those who are fed up with this topic they may well pass on to more interesting items or whatever grabs their fancy. I consider it my duty as a citizen of this town and drinking the precious fluid of its premier lake to dwell on whatever is happening in regard to its conservation – or rather, the lack of it.

On the morning of 9th April 2018, of all the newspapers, the local issue of the Times of India published a photograph of a drain live with mucky fluid joining the waters of the Lake. The local municipal corporation has been claiming while some sewage treatment plants (STPs) were already functional others were being planned – an argument the municipality has been recycling over and over again for the last few years. The truth is probably much farther than what it claims. Hardly any new STPs have been added in recent years and drains with sewage have merrily been flowing into the Lake.

Worse, a report only three days back showed how the Lake’s feeder, the Kolhans River, has been encroached upon and its channels are blocked. In any case, the river is on the verge of drying up. Even the tributaries of this small river have been encroached upon. So even if the area gets normal rains as is being predicted, the Upper Lake is likely to be starved of water during the rains. That would mean shortage of water in the town despite the predicted normal rains

Perhaps, informal agencies or NGOs will have to get after the municipality. Nothing was mentioned about the other feeder – River Uljhawan. Perhaps it too is under threat flowing as it is through more or less the same area. But the other disturbing fact is that unauthorized colonies have come up in the catchment area which, in all probability, will be regularized for the sake of votes. This is most likely to damage the catchments of the Lake and its waters.

One must grant it to the local municipality that though declared as the custodian of the Lake, it has no legal or administrative authority over the areas that form its catchments. These fall in the district of Sehore. Hence the Corporation’s intervention in this regard will be resented by the Sehore authorities. For this very reason the Citizens’ Forum had suggested years ago an empowered management authority for the Lake that would have unhampered jurisdiction over the Lake and its catchments. The government did form such a body but it was so unwieldy that to get so many people together at one place at the same time proved difficult. The body, if I recall, met only once without any fruitful results. One wonders whether it is still in existence. Without such an authority it would be difficult to take proper steps to conserve the Lake as well as its catchments through which its feeders flow.

While this matter should have been sorted out by the municipality it seems to be more interested in creating physical assets around the Lake for variety of uses regardless of existence of any demand. Not only an amphitheatre has been built, a “Selfie point” called “Explore Bhopal” has been created by cutting the hill below the Medical College. The place has been provided with facilities of a food court, a thing which should have been strictly avoided near a drinking water source. If I am not mistaken, even toilets have been created at the level of the VIP road. One does not know whether there was a demand for any of these facilities. The periphery of the Lake is thus being built up as places for recreation and relaxation. The former Commissioner of the municipality had elaborated at a meeting with The Bhopal Citizens’ Forum the policy of the Corporation towards use of the Lake. She had said, quite fallaciously, that the Corporation wanted the people to “enjoy” the Lake. Apparently, she and her cohorts in the Corporation were not aware of the need to insulate such lakes as ours from large collections of people and concurrent presence of eating joints. The people of Chandigarh have done the same with their Sukhna Lake – not a source of drinking water – after being ordered by th High Court.

 Clearly, the Corporation does not go by the principles of wetland management. The other day I happened to go towards the Boat Club. A number of restaurants have come up and at least a couple of dozen handcarts serving snacks and beverages were parked on both sides of the road. It was like a regular Indian mela there. Apparently, the authorities were not satisfied by building up Sair Sapata which reportedly has progressively lost footfalls. The Tourism outfit thought it would attract tourists from outstations. That did not happen and it was only the local visitors who used it. They too apparently are more than sated by it. But, In the process, severe damage was caused to the Bhoj Wetland, the Important Bird Area that it hosts, as also the waters of the Lake

While the official neglect of the Lake continues, private parties are carving out its pieces for their personal use. One might recall attempts a few months back to create a wall inside the Lake in the area known as Khanugaon which, after being repeatedly reported in the local media, received personal attention from the chief minister by way of a surprise visit. He promptly ordered its demolition. The vested interests in the Corporation are so daring that till today the wall stands as it stood when the chief minister saw it. The other day a report came out that about 1000 truck-loads of soil were dumped in the Lake near the Bhadbhada dam. Latest reports say that the huge dump is being cleared. But the question is who had the temerity to take such a daring step; papers are not naming any individual or organization. Then, of course, the unauthorized colonies are trying their best for regularisatio tha in all likelihood will seal the fate of the Lake, at least partially, if not fully

Sometime back a mention was made in the papers about a wetland authority in Bhopal. None of us had heard of any such authority. Nonetheless, if it exists it should look sharp at whatever is transpiring to kill the Lake. Otherwise the Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation needs to come in in a big way to save the Lake. The lake seems to be well past the stage of protection; it now needs to be SAVED.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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