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State's concern on lakes sounds hollow

india Updated: Sep 14, 2012 11:20 IST
Sravani Sarkar

Even as the state government, led by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is harping about the need to conserve water bodies in the state including the Upper Lake, a revelation made by Right to Information (RTI) puts a question mark on the earnestness of the government on the issue.

RTI documents show that a legislation to protect the water bodies of the state had reached almost the final stages of enactment in 2004. However, what happened to this proposed 'Madhya Pradesh talab, jheel tatha anya jal sroton ka sanrakshan vidheyak' (Madhya Pradesh lakes, ponds and other water sources conservation bill) remains a big mystery.

The annual report of the state department of housing and environment for 2004-05 (obtained through RTI) mentions very clearly that the department prepared the bill and sent it to the law department for approval. The law department approved the bill and the department was taking further action for putting up the bill in the state assembly for enactment.

The annual report mentions that 'after the bill is passed (by the state assembly), the work scope of the Lake Conservation Authority (LCA) would become more extensive and then the authority would require more budget'. Interestingly, the LCA itself was merged with the Environment Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO) earlier this year.

The LCA was formed for the post-project conservation and management of lakes of Bhopal and other lakes of MP after the Bhoj Wetland project duration ended in 2004. The Rs 245-crore Bhoj Wetland project was launched in 1995 with support of Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) for the conservation and management of lakes in Bhopal including the Upper Lake.

RTI activist Ajay Dubey, who obtained the RTI documents (now available with HT) has written to the chief secretary of the state, putting up questions about the past announcements and efforts for conservation of lakes in the state including the proposed Act, especially the Upper Lake in Bhopal.

Talking to HT, Dubey said that if the government was so intent on protection of the lakes, it should have passed the proposed lake conservation bill and turned it into a law that would have ensured protection of the water bodies.

The activist has also pointed out several other discrepancies in the lake conservation efforts of the government. Dubey has said that after completion of the Bhoj Wetland project, the state government (LCA) received Rs 24 crore from the probable amount of contract (PAC) of the project. While this amount is lying with the account of the finance department unutilised, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation is planning to seek another Rs 10 crore from the union government for conservation and development of Bhopal's lakes. Dubey has asked in his letter why the PAC amount was not being utilised for the purpose. In particular context of the Upper Lake, Dubey has mentioned that the state government seems to have forgotten that the lake is an internationally known wetland, where commercial activities cannot be undertaken. Also, nowhere in the world, any tourism activity is allowed on the sources of potable water. Similarly, no tourism activities could be undertaken without preparing a comprehensive environmental impact assessment report and suitable environmental management plan.

Chief secretary R Parasuram said, "I havn't gone through the e-mail letter sent to me yet and thus it is difficult to respond off-hand to the issues mentioned. I would look into the mail and take further necessary action."