Bhopal: City of lakes, hills has a mountain to climb

Virendra Pandit | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on March 09, 2016


Bhopal stats

Scarred by the 1984 gas tragedy, Bhopal seeks rebirth. Can the smart city project do it?

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, Bhopal suffered the world’s worst man-made industrial disaster when methyl iso-cyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant, killing thousands and severely affecting lakhs, many of whom too died a slow death.

Scarred for life, the city of lakes and hills expanded horizontally, with large green spaces that its residents called their ‘green lungs’, a place where one could even ‘taste’ the air. In this third greenest city of India, a main arterial road even earned the sobriquet of Thandi Sadak (Cold Road) because temperatures here are lower than the main city due to its dense greenery. Thandi Sadak is, however, inviting heated discussions after Bhopal was chosen for development as one of 20 smart cities.

That’s because this eco-friendly area, in the Shivaji Nagar-Tulsi Nagar residential district –– mostly inhabited by serving and retired bureaucrats and government employees, and politicians of all hues –– will now be the focus of “redevelopment”.

‘Second disaster’ in the making
Some of its residents smell a rat. “It’s like redeveloping an already developed Lutyens’ Delhi or Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh as smart cities,” says Harish Bhavnani, Convener, Bhopal Citizens’ Forum. “Bhopal is the only one of the 20 cities where no area has been earmarked for retrofitting, and the entire focus is on redevelopment of a developed area. If the project goes through, it may be the second environmental disaster for Bhopal after 1984 –– as some 30,000 trees and 2,700 houses (both government and privately owned) could be uprooted.”

“We have not even been consulted,” Bhavnani complains.

His predecessor at the Forum, Wing Commander DK Dixit (Retired), says members of his group met Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to express these concerns. Some NGOs have come forward to protest the Bhopal Municipal Corporation’s proposal focussing upon upscale and well-maintained Shivaji Nagar rather than the less-developed Old City, and have threatened to move the courts and the National Green Tribunal.

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All our plans are inclusive: BMC Commissioner

BMC Commissioner Tejaswi Naik, however, refutes these claims. “We have consulted over 3.5 lakh people through citizen engagement programmes. And redevelopment is only in the first phase of the project; we will also take up retrofitting and green-field development in later stages of the smart city plan.”

Unlocking land value

So, this city of 14 lakes and numerous hillocks, with an estimated 35 per cent slum population, envisages redevelopment of 333 acres of Shivaji Nagar area. In fact, the State Government had commenced redevelopment of the adjoining Tatya Tope (TT) Nagar area, also inhabited by government employees, over the past decade, arguing that a lot of precious, underutilised government land attached to residential quarters needed to be redeveloped to unlock its value.

The Smart City Mission, focussed on Shivaji Nagar, is an extension of the same process, officials say. It will be convenient to implement the project on this government land, some of which had long been leased out to private parties. About 5,000 government employees, besides some slum-dwellers, reside in these areas.

Under the Area-Based Development (ABD), old structures, mostly up to two or three storeys, will be demolished to give way to multi-storeyed apartments and business towers. However, some buildings such as schools and colleges, hospitals and private constructions, including a Congress Party office, will be spared.

The pan-city proposals for New and Old Bhopal envisage smart unified governance to streamline civic amenities and enable ease of governance and business. The new Smart City would be as eco-friendly as the existing Shivaji Nagar area, but financially sustainable due to business development activities. It is expected to increase footfall and boost business. The project entails construction on 50 per cent of the area and keeping the rest open.

Around 8 lakh people reside in nearly 350 slum areas of the city, spread over 38 acres. The project aims to make the city slum-free by providing real estate developers the opportunity to redevelop parts of these areas for slum-dwellers who will pay only 10 per cent of the cost; the builders can develop the remaining areas for commercial use. The beneficiaries will also get subsidies up to ₹3 lakh under the housing-for-all scheme.

Strong industrial moorings

Bhopal has a mature industrial base, with the Govindpura-BHEL-Mandideep complex accounting for exports worth ₹7,100 crore in 2014-15, about 36 per cent of the city’s GDP.

Under the area-based development proposals, the project aims to redevelop 50 acres, retrofit 500 acres and take up 250 acres for green-field development in a phased manner. Shivaji Nagar will use information and communication technology to improve amenities, and integrate these with the rest of the city, says Naik.

The Transit-Oriented Development model will have a mix of residential and commercial area with Smart City features. New buildings will have to ensure rainwater harvesting, energy efficiency and adequate water supply. Solar power will meet at least 10 per cent of electricity demand. Other important features include an intelligent traffic management system to make most people use public transport, which will be accessible within five minutes of any transit point.

In many ways, a part of Bhopal died that December night in 1984. The city is yearning to be reborn, but not everyone is convinced that the Smart City project is the right recipe for such a reincarnation.

Click here to read about the other Smart Cities

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Published on March 09, 2016
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