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Economic valuation of Bhoj Wetland needed

THE OTHER evening, while returning from evening walk on VIP road, my wife and I saw a bizarre sight. A car came up from behind and parked a little ahead of us along the footpath on the bridge.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2007 16:55 IST

THE OTHER evening, while returning from evening walk on VIP road, my wife and I saw a bizarre sight. A car came up from behind and parked a little ahead of us along the footpath on the bridge.

The young driver came out and quickly ran towards the railings and, shockingly, urinated right into the lake. It was 7 pm and the weird act was performed in full view of numerous passers-by.

Though nonplussed for a moment, I did collar the man, who, mumbling some inanities, drove away. The unspeakable act made one feel as if the lake had been violated. Two other witnesses thought that the man’s place was in a zoo and not in a civilised society.

It certainly was not an isolated incident. Those having free access to the lake for extended swims or others who regularly hang around the shores for hours must also be doing it.

If this huge body of water, a major drinking water source for the locals, is left unguarded this is precisely what would happen. And none seem to care.

Forget about policing, the need of which was articulated in these columns only a few weeks back, all conservational efforts have came to a standstill since the Bhoj Wetland Project was wound down.

Sewers still open into the lake, de-weeding and de-silting has not been carried out for long. For want of watch-and-ward, the lake has become a receptacle for trash from all around including VIP road from where New Year-eve revellers even chucked empty beer bottles into it. Quite ironically, it is increasingly being brought into more intense use.

None can, however, oppose the recently held non-polluting water-sporting events; but its over-exploitation for recreational purposes is surely worrisome, with large number of people collecting regularly at the Boat Club, near-by eateries and VIP road.

Moreover, reckoning the lake as synonymous with tourism in Bhopal the Chief Minister made mention of it twice recently in that context. He, however, seems unconcerned about the need for its conservation, “wise and sustainable use”.
Looks like, it is a classic instance of intense exploitation of a wetland for immediate commercial gains without much of a thought given towards its protection and sustainability.

Since most management decisions are taken on economic grounds, researchers have increasingly felt that conservation of wetlands can be ensured if its goods and services are quantified in monetary terms.

The Ramsar Convention was mandated as early as in 1996 to promote research, analysis and dissemination of information on economic valuation of wetland products and services under the Strategic Plan approved by the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Wetlands in Brisbane.

Other international environmental agencies and mechanisms have also been doing likewise since. Needless to say, our Wetland, while offering several products, renders some vital services too.

Not only does it provide drinking water, fish and other marine produce, it also offers services that are recreational, educational and for tourists.

In addition, it delivers significant ‘ecological services’ like those of stabilisation of the local (micro) climate, maintenance of a rich biodiversity and re-charging of underground aquifers besides having huge ‘heritage value’.

Their economic valuation could yield a decision to generate the much-needed funds (currently unavailable) for the lake’s protection and copybook upkeep by levying appropriate ‘conservational cess’ on the users of its ‘consumptive’ products and ‘non-consumptive’ services, and by way of sanction of appropriate governmental grants for its ‘ecological services’.

Clearly, it is now time the authorities concerned, evolving a vision for the Wetland, which itself is a Ramsar site, initiated necessary studies towards its economic assessment to ensure its everlasting presence.