Idol immersions continue unabated in Bhopal wetland

Wooden structures and puja materials on the banks of the Upper Lake in Bhopal.  

Despite the presence of alternative sites, a wetland management authority and legal restrictions, idol immersions continue unabated at Bhopal’s Bhojtal, a wetland of ‘international importance’ under the Ramsar Convention.

Recently, 11 youths, the last of 500 such groups out to immerse idols at a ghat on the day, drowned there as their boats capsized.

Separate tanks

Even so, local authorities have again designated immersion spots and planned deployment of cranes along the Bhojtal, ahead of the Durga puja. This, in spite of a series of separate immersion tanks skirting the lake, an admission that there was a need to conserve the State’s only wetland, and an unawareness of restrictions under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.

In 2002, the Upper Lake, a reservoir built in the 11th century, and the Lower Lake, added in 18th century downstream for beautification, were together designated as a wetland of international importance under the 1971 Convention, which mandates their ‘wise use’.

“The principle is important since people may occupy areas around a wetland,” said Saswat Bandyopadhyay, Professor, CEPT University. “It means you allow fulfilment of local needs without compromising the wetland ecosystem.”

Moreover, the Bhojtal’s biodiversity can’t be ignored, he said. “It is a precarious wetland marked as an Important Bird Area for being a destination for migratory birds from Central Asia and Russia in winters.”

The wetland hosts 52 migratory and 28 local migratory birds species every season, apart from being a tortoise and insect habitat.

In 1995, the State launched a conservation project with a ₹2.5 billion aid from the Japanese Bank For International Cooperation. Upon the project’s completion, a State Lake Conservation Authority was set up, but in 2011-2012 it was merged with the State government’s Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation, thereby losing credence and teeth.

Even as the Bhopal Municipal Corporation continued as the wetland’s custodian, the State Human Rights Commission in 2013 called upon the State to set up an autonomous commission to protect water bodies. In light of the Kedarnath floods, it had issued fiery commentary: “The administration is not worrying, people are silent. Will this silence break only when Bhopal drowns as a result of some grave tragedy?”

In 2016, five youths drowned in the same lake after their boat capsized, three years before the idol immersion tragedy.

Jitendra Singh Raje, EPCO Executive Director, and member secretary of State Wetland Authority, set up in 2018, said immersion of idols was prohibited in the wetland. The authority, helmed by State Environment Minister, doesn’t have an Integrated Management Plan as mandated by the Centre, and has issued no guidelines, even those relating to idol immersions, to the BMC.

The Convention calls for a check on anthropogenic activities, that could include idol immersions, to conserve wetlands, he added.

Almost 200 tonnes of waste was generated in the lake due to the recent Ganesh Chaturthi, said Pawan Kumar Singh, Additional Commissioner, BMC. And yet for the next festival three sites along the Lower Lake, a major repository of the city’s sewage, and one along the Upper Lake, which meets the city’s 40% drinking water, have been designated for immersions.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 2:30:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/idol-immersions-continue-unabated-in-bhopal-wetland/article29503073.ece

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