Madhya Pradesh’s capital Bhopal evolved from a durbar town of 85,000 people to become the nerve centre of India’s second largest State. The princely state of Bhopal merged with India in 1949. It became the capital of Madhya Pradesh, which was formed in 1956 with the merger of the erstwhile states of Madhya Bharat, Vindhya Pradesh and Bhopal. The city now has a population of about two million. Dotted with hills, lakes and dams, it covers 697.24 square kilometres.

Modern Bhopal was created in the sixties and seventies, when the city was developed south of the two lakes. M.N. Buch was the ‘super secretary’ of the city, who from 1971 to 1977, simultaneously headed all departments concerned with its development — such as Town and Country Planning, Housing, Environment, Forests, Local Self-Government, Public Health Engineering and Tourism.

“We had a fairly clean slate. When the State was formed, officials shifted to the city with their families from Nagpur, Indore and Rewa. It was obvious that the old city could not sustain this population of 3.5 lakhs. Land, back then, was easy to acquire, and there was lot of government land,” he told The Hindu.

In order not to have a sharp contrast between the new city and the old, sewerage and roads infrastructure were integrated and developed. “There are a few bottlenecks between the new and old parts,” he said. “The need today is to connect the various cities that make up Bhopal, like Bairagarh, Kolar, Jahangirabad, Shahjahanabad and the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited township.”

One of the key interventions to resolve connectivity is the Bus Rapid Transit System called Mybus. The 85-km project is split into six corridors, the first of which became operational in June.

Madhya Pradesh has almost six lakh government workers and two lakh contract workers. The salary and pension outlay has quadrupled in the past decade to Rs. 29,000 crore. The State Secretariat, Mantralaya, came up in 1965. The new Assembly complex, Indira Gandhi Vidhan Bhawan, designed by Charles Correa, was completed in 1998. Previously, the Assembly functioned from the colonial Minto Hall built in 1909. Correa also designed the iconic Bharat Bhawan — the hub of the arts — which overlooks the Upper Lake.

Bhopal is indelibly etched in the world’s memory by the gas tragedy in 1984. Methyl Isocyanate, which leaked from the Union Carbide factory in the old city, killed around 16,000 and affected 5.6 lakh people. The Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department was created, and it has spent Rs. 512.09 crore on rehabilitation and given out Rs. 1,548.93 crore in compensation till March 2009. It is a unique case of an ancient city, a State capital where chronic illness and complaints of denial of compensation persist.

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