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BMC clear slums for Bhoj Wetland's conservation, no action on sewage treatment

By Shishir Agrawal
New Update
Bhadbhada Basti Demolition Drive

Sahil Khan is sitting with his children around debris from his recently demolished house in the Bhadbhada slum of Bhopal. His wife Rukhsar and Ammi are taking out household items from this debris. On Wednesday 21st February, about 386 houses in Bhopal's Bhadbhada slum, including Sahil's, were bulldozed by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC).

On the petition of law student Arya Srivastava, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had asked the district administration and BMC to identify encroachment on the Bhoj wetland near Bhadbhada bridge. BMC submitted a list of 227 encroachment structures to the NGT in the hearing on February 16, 2022. The removal was ordered by the NGT in July 2023. This action taken by the Municipal Corporation was to comply with NGT’s decision.

bhadbhada basti rehabilitation
Sahil is collecting the remaining household items with his small children.

In the hearing held on June 10, 2021, the tribunal ordered the formation of two separate committees. The first committee was to demarcate the lake and identify the encroachments. Furthermore, the objective of the second committee was to identify the sources polluting the water bodies of Bhopal. In addition, the Municipal Corporation was ordered to prepare a report on a total of 8 points related to the conservation of water bodies including the total number of sewage treatment plants, the amount of water used by the city, and the total amount of treated water. 

Hence, the other side of the case is the pollution in the lakes due to sewage and other pollutants. In such a situation, it is not justified to just remove encroachment, and believe that the mentioned water bodies would be conserved. In a sense, BMC itself is in question regarding the discharge of untreated water into the water bodies. And, here BMC has cleverly given itself a clean chit.

Bhopal Municipal Corporation clean chit to itself

The report presented by the Pollution Control Board said that Bhopal Municipal Corporation is releasing untreated water into the city's Nawab Siddiqui Hasan Pond. Therefore, an environmental compensation of Rs 155.55 lakh was put on the corporation for this. In this context, show cause notice was also given to BMC by the State Pollution Control Board. Responding to this notice, the Corporation cited the report of the above-mentioned committee formed by the Tribunal (in which the BMC Commissioner was also a member). The report said that no untreated water was being released into the pond by them.

bhadbhada basti demolition BMC
Full Tank Level (FTL) stone of Bhoj Wetland installed in Bhadbhada Basti.

According to an estimate, 15 million litres of sewage enter Bhopal's Upper Lake every day from 14 drains. It not only pollutes it but also affects the biological diversity here. In such a situation, it is very important to make a systematic plan for the conservation of the lake and implement it effectively. 

Arrangements for the displaced people of Bhadbhada colony

Talking about BMC’s action, the people of the Bhadbhada Colony slum are currently facing many problems related to accommodation and food. From Wednesday to Saturday, BMC demolished all the houses except a mosque and a temple. Standing on the debris of his house, Sahil says that last Friday he had to spend the night with his family amidst the debris of the broken house. 

The local administration had made arrangements for these displaced families at a rehabilitation centre near Jawahar Chowk, about 4.5 km from Bhadbhada Basti. But according to Sahil, the conditions there are so bad that small children cannot live in such a place.

Aslam's grandfather had been living in the Bhadbhada colony for the last 45 years. But now they are filling their household goods in the trolley vehicles given for assistance by the Municipal Corporation. We asked him where he would stay now. On this, he replied very angrily,

“Now where else will we live, on the footpath.”

publive-image
NGT on the fourth day of implementation of the orders given by the Department, action was taken to demolish 118 structures and till date 386 structures have been demolished. | Photo: x/BMCBhopal

Bhadbhada Basti: Current Status of Rehabilitation

Whereas Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of TT Nagar Munawwar Khan says,

“The local people have been given 3 options for rehabilitation. Most of the people have been assisted by Rs 1 lakh. Apart from this, there is an option to give a plot in Chandpur and the remaining people will be given accommodation in Malikhedi and Kal Kheda under PM Awas.”

Here, 386 houses have been demolished. But, according to the local SDM, only 146 PM houses are in ready condition at the given place. Last Sunday, application forms for PM Awas were taken by 214 families. However, how many have submitted the form is not clear till the time of writing this report.

The administration has given checks of Rs 1 lakh to the people of the colony for immediate relief. But local people say that there are some spelling mistakes in the checks given to them by the administration. Hence, they are being returned from the bank. On this SDM Khan says,

“Today (Saturday) 55 new checks have been made and given. Checks which have errors will be rectified in the next working days. ,

However, Aamna (40) says that her important documents are buried under the debris. Now, they are facing difficulty in submitting the necessary documents to get the check through. At the same time, many people present here say that the amount of one lakh is not enough. On the matter of giving a plot in Chandpur, located about 18 kilometres away from the colony, Farhan (35) says,

“We work as labourers, so even if we buy a plot there, how will we get it constructed? On top of that, our savings will be spent on coming to the city for labour.”

Bhadbhada demolition ground report
While loading his luggage into the Municipal vehicle, Aslam says angrily, “Now we will go to the footpath and where else ?"

‘Is removing slums itself conservation?’

In the year 2022, another petition was filed by local social activist Rashid Noor. The petition stated the violation of Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rule 2017 by Bhopal Municipal Corporation. Petitioner Rashid Noor says,

“When the NGT puts pressure, the administration demolishes the slums and makes food supplies. Merely removing slums of the poor is not conservation.”

He believes that while preparing a conservation plan, the government should tell what arrangements will be made for the people living in slums. Referring to the recent NGT decision regarding illegal construction in the catchment area of Kaliyasot River, he says,

“The government does not show the courage to remove the big people who are occupying the place. Only slums are targeted.”

Agreeing with Rashid Noor, Dr. Pradeep Nandi, Director General of the National Center for Human Settlement and Environment (NCHSE) says,

“People come and settle in slums and later they are given leases. But before constructing big buildings, approval from BMC and Country Town Planning is required. Then the question should be to the authorities how did they allow construction in the catchment area?”

It is noteworthy that in July 2023, the tribunal imposed a fine of Rs 1 crore on BMC for permitting to building of a floating restaurant on Bhoj Wetland. According to the case, 22 concrete pillars were constructed for a floating restaurant in the catchment area of Bhoj Wetland.

Bhadbhada Jhuggi Basti Demolition Bhopal
Social workers of Bhopal say that only slums become victims of government action.

Status of conservation of lakes

In 1989, the Madhya Pradesh government started the conservation of lakes by removing weeds from the lakes through the 'Sarovar Hamari Dharohar' scheme. Madhya Pradesh government has also made an integrated plan for the conservation and management of lakes. From 1989 to 1992, the government also spent Rs 16.5 million in the form of grants in aid. Later, a soft loan of 7.055 billion yen was also taken by the Japan Bank for International Corporation (JBIC) as external funding.

But a former member associated with the State Wetland recalls this project and says that only 'eyewash' was done by the administration in the name of conservation. He says,

“The project included things like de-silting, de-weeding, sewage management, demarcation and catchment area protection. But none of this was done well. Also, their post-project management was poor due to which this problem persists even today.”