Digvijay Singh, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and now a candidate for the forthcoming Parliamentary elections from Bhopal has issued a vision document for development of Bhopal. The document promises a string of development works which include development of the state capital on the lines of National Capital Region under which satellite towns Gurugram and NOIDA developed and prospered, increasing income of people, enhancement of job opportunities, Narmada water in every home, security of women and children. These apart,
Digvijay Singh promises to develop the Old City and conserve the city’s heritage including the iconic Upper Lake.
The very fact that Digvijay Singh has had to plan for development of the state capital is indicative of its under-development, even backwardness. Digvijay Singh lost the position of chief minister fifteen years ago and before that he was chief minister for two terms of five years each. During those ten years practically nothing was done for the state capital. The city was in such dire straits that the quality of life in it deteriorated alarmingly prompting concerned citizens to initiate joint action to reverse the trend. That is when some of the intellectuals and concerned citizens of the city decided on constituting a pressure group, informal though it might be, to pressurize the government to pay attention to citizens’ welfare. Bhopal Citizens’ Forum was what came into being with a handful of people who were deeply concerned about the declining standards of civic administration in Bhopal. They joined hands together and started highlighting the issues that touched the lives of the people.
In this connection, I am inclined to mention only one issue that was taken up by Digvijay Singh during his tenure as chief minister and that was the Bhoj Wetland Project for conservation of Upper and Lower lakes of Bhopal. This was something tangible that was attempted but because of the government’s lackadaisical way of functioning the project could not be taken to its logical conclusion.
As the waters of the Bhopal lakes, which were earlier consumed without being treated, progressively got polluted on account of anthropogenic pressures efforts to improve their quality was an ongoing process. Accordingly in 1995 a project with the assistance of Japanese Bank of International Cooperation was initiated for conservation of the Bhoj Wetland comprising the Upper and Lower Lakes and their catchments. The Bhoj Wetland Project ran for 9 years instead of the mandated 5 and yet the project authorities could not complete many of the sub projects and an amount of approximately Rs. 100 crores (out of Rs. 267 crore) remained unspent.
The Project was largely a failure for reasons that can be attributed only to the local state government which was overseeing the project and because of the utterly loose administration hardly anything worthwhile was got done. For nine long years that the project was made to run there was precious little to show as gains.
Similar neglect of the vital water bodies was witnessed during the regimes that followed. Though the chief minister kept assuring people that as long as he was around he would not allow the lakes to come to any harm. He even got the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, a reputed environmental institution of Ahmedabad, to study and report ways and means to conserve the Wetland. As the report failed to meet with the political requirements of the government of the day it was never published. Things stand where they were and, in fact, the condition of the Lake, which remains the drinking water source for 40% of the city’s population, continues to deteriorate.
It must, however, be stated that the regime of Digvijay Singh was the worst. It paid hardly any attention to the Wetland or to the Project that had been negotiated with the Japanese Government for financing it. Curiously, he is now again talking in his Vision Document about conservation of the Upper Lake. The past experience of people of Bhopal with his rule does not inspire any confidence. One tends to believe that it is all only talk signifying practically nothing.
The regimes of Digvijay Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan failed to make any concrete difference to the quality of the waters of the Lake. According to a study of the Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation, it is estimated that 9.82 million gallons of sewage enter the Lake per day and intensive chemical agriculture promotes runoff from rural catchments into the lake affecting the quality of its waters. In point of fact what should have been done by the Bhoj Wetland Project has remained undone till today and the Lake is now a pond of dirty, contaminated water. Researchers who have had occasion to research the Lake give it around another 50 or 60 years beyond which, it is predicted, it would cease to be fit for human use. The CEPT has also given it approximately half a century and has said unless measures are taken to conserve it, it would become something like a dirty large-sized pond.
It is such a pity that for the past 25 years regimes came and regimes went but none of these could do anything significant to improve the water quality of the Lake. A millennium old lake created for the benefit of the people seems to have been ruined by the negligence and apathy of supposedly modern administrators.
Digvijay Singh could, perhaps, lend support to his son who is now the minister for urban administration and development. Apparently far better qualified, having been educated in Columbia University, he would perhaps be able to deliver where the father failed.