The news that the state government is prepared to relax the land use rules in the catchment area of the Upper Lake to enable the current additional chief Secretary who is also the future chief secretary to build much more than 10% on his huge plot is ominous. The question is if a blue-eyed boy of the chief minister is allowed to build to his heart’s content on his plot of land close to the Lake would the chief minister’s political and business cronies be far behind? Or for that matter, would he and his family be far behind? If the additional chief secretary gets a favourable relaxation in floor area ratio the flood gates will be opened for more and more relaxations in the catchments of the Lake – supposedly the life line of the City of Bhopal. It would be downright murder of this thousand-year old water body.
Everybody knew of the plan for quite some time. If one harks back to the City Plan that was prepared to replace the 2005 Plan it was so oriented to cater to the demands of the real estate lobby that the people raised a hue and cry and the chief minister had to toss it in the waste bin. The real estate lobby has always been wielding influence on the chief minister for reasons one can well imagine. One saw it in the matter relating to the Central Business District from where the lower middle class government employees were chased out, their houses were demolished, thousands of trees were felled but the business district is yet to come up. Rumours of heavy exchange of cash between Gammon India and the state’s political establishment became pervasive.
That was almost 10 years ago. Soon thereafter was the government’s brush with CEPT (Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology of Ahmedabad) which the government engaged – perhaps in its weaker moments – to suggest ways and means to conserve the Upper Lake. Before it could submit its report the government was already clearing proposals for construction of some educational institutions, including Jagaran University, a sports authority complex and incredibly the Sair Sapata, an amusement-park like outfit that was too close to threaten the Lake and the birds in its Important Bird Area.
In due course the CEPT submitted its report but that too was about five years ago. The government neither rejected it nor did it act on it. It did not even release it to the public though public money was spent for preparing the report. It just sat on it and continues to do so with a sense of creepy impunity.
That recommendations of the CEPT did not quite match with the intentions and plans of the government became clear as reportedly the real-estate lobby was not happy with them. Day by day it is becoming clear that catchments of the Lake that are its source are now up for sale to the real estate lobby. The ruling party and the government along with the real estate lobby seemingly are salivating at the prospect of capitalizing the huge expanse of precious land close to the capital. That this may sound the death knell of the Lake is of no concern to them. What if money is made to inflate the burgeoning party and state coffers? After all, the state elections are round the corner. And what if the construction lobby makes billions and share their pickings with politicians and bureaucrats? The lake could be taken care of by those who follow in the government if they so wished. Otherwise, just forget about it. The current trend apparently is that for short term gains everything, including a inheritance from medieval times, could be sacrificed.
One can see the hypocrisy of the government. On one hand preparations are afoot to kill the Lake for all practical purposes, on the other hand the chief minister has asked for voluntary labour, (he is also contributing his own) to deepen the Lake as well as the streams that feed it. Time was when the streams were perennial, now they are bone dry. At some places they are reportedly built over. The chief minister surely knows that voluntary labour cannot achieve the objective of deepening the Lake and its feeders. The whole move is only a kind of tokenism to fool the people.
The utter neglect of the Lake and its catchments have suffered at the hands of this government is to be seen to be believed. As it has been reported, even the Lake Conservation Authority was wound up and the State Wetland Authority, if there is any, is utterly ineffective. The plan for the catchment that should have seen minimum construction may now see high rises, stadia and sundry colonies coming up. Even irregular and unauthorized colonies might be regularized. All their waste will mostly end up in the Lake. It is likely to become a septic tank like the Shahpura Lake which got the same epithet from one of the former BMC municipal commissioners. The damage that the Lake and its catchments suffered during the tenure of this government is unimaginable.
Hypocrisy of the chief minister was again quite plainly revealed in respect of saving the Narmada River. After allowing the River to be mined by sand mafia (including his relatives) for sand down to its rocky beds he thought of the Narmada Seva Yatra campaign. Initially unofficial, soon it became an official programme with crores of rupees spent. The numerous objectives of the Yatra, including construction of several sewage treatment plants along the river banks, have mostly remained on paper.
The claim of planting 6 billion saplings along its banks on a single day has raised a lot of dust. The Guinness Book of records has asked for proof for planting billions of saplings on a single day which the government has not been able to provide so far. The six crore saplings raised as many questions as when the so-called Hindu saints contemplated a yatra (journey) to check the veracity of the government’s claims six of the prominent ones were quickly given positions of Ministers of state. They were thus bribed into giving up their investigations. Having withdrawn their own yatra they are now demanding all the perks of the positions in which they are now safely ensconced. Other so-called saints, and there are plenty of them, are terribly angry and displeased and are out to expose the chief minister.
Bluff and bluster does not always work. Greed for another term is making the chef minister do things which, I suppose, he would not have indulged in otherwise. But one can never tell about a politician. They have mostly been unscrupulous and hardly ever won the trust of people.