Hyderabad: Bountiful rain is a blessing for humans. But going by the trail of destruction left behind by the recent spate of showers in the city, one could only say that rains are a curse upon the urban landscape.
Streets and streams looked alike, rainwater reclaimed what were once homes, stormwater drains killed people, and much-vaunted infrastructure laid limp before the nature.
The journey from rain as a blessing to rain as a curse is fraught with decades of irresponsibility and negligence, both on part of people and the systems. Be it Nectar Gardens, East Anandbagh, Upparpally, M.S. Maktha, Prakash Nagar, Boduppal, Saroornagar or Warasiguda, the drowned localities were once part of one lake or the other, or of the streams that scurried to them.
If anything was starkly apparent in the water that flooded the years of developmental gloat, it was utter lack of urban planning. And all fingers point to the civic and urban development authorities, which did not give much thought to the destruction of natural wealth vis-a-vis creation of wealth.
It has been almost a decade since the folly was pointed out by the High Court and a Lake Protection Committee (LPC) was constituted under the chairmanship of the HMDA Commissioner. But precious little has been achieved since then. The very first duty ascribed to the committee, which is listing of all the lakes in HMDA along with their FTL, remains woefully underachieved.
Of the total 3,132 lakes in HMDA’s jurisdiction (including GHMC’s 185), the FTL notification has been issued only for 224 lakes so far, despite the survey being completed with respect to close to 2,700. Within the GHMC jurisdiction, of the 185 lakes, the process has been completed only for 50. “Even where the FTL is marked, it is being violated with impunity. It happened in Bum Rukn Ud Daula lake, in Yellamma Kunta and in Malkam Cheruvu. In Masjid Banda lake, five high rises are coming up, despite the FTL being demarcated. For the GHMC, be it water body, rocky area, or vegetation, everything becomes land,” says Lubna Sarwat, who has waged a relentless battle for urban lakes under the organisation Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL).
Engineering officials from the GHMC, however, attribute their inability to take stringent action to litigations by private patta holders inside the lake beds, who were granted the same by the Asafjahi rulers for cultivation during dry season when the lake recedes.
“With an eye on real estate prices, most litigants claim that the plots do not come inside the lake FTL. We cannot take any action till the cases are cleared by the court,” says an official.
The brief given to LPC is beyond marking the FTL though. They ought to remove encroachments, raise bunds along FTLs, de-silt the water channels that flow to the lake, and deploy watch and ward staff for preventing encroachments and misuse of the lake environment. As things stand now, lakes are cut off from their feeder channels, and only sewage flow into them from surrounding localities. “Durgam Cheruvu is half encroached upon by high-rise buildings, sewage from which is let into the lake. Now, whenever water level increases, the sewage flow is pushed back, inundating the toilets in the apartments,” says an official from the GHMC.
The civic body’s latest initiative of constructing walking tracks around whatever is left of the lake after encroachments is being decried by activists, as an attempt to choke the water body. “The entire hydrological drainage system must be revived, which they are not doing. Instead, they are granting permissions to build without any heed to lake catchment area. As a result, we are being flooded whenever there are copious rains,” says Ms. Sarwat.
Two purposes would be served through clearing of inflow and surplus channels, she says. One, rain water gets impounded into lakes, and two, pure rain water can be supplied as drinking water, rather than spending hundreds of crores of rupees on bringing river water to the city. S.Q. Masood, another activist, says the FTL marking is not enough. Maximum water spread should be demarcated, apart from identifying the full flood level (FFL).
“Musi’s FFL stones can be seen even now. Likewise, the FFL should be marked for all lakes, before planning storm water drainage system. Marking of maximum water spread is essential to take precautionary measures in case of heavy rain alert,” he says, besides seeking strengthening of engineering departments in HMDA, GHMC and HMWSSB.
The conservation zones marked in the HMDA’s master plan should not be changed at will by the GHMC, and strict action should be planned against letting sewage into lakes, rather than planning multi-crore-rupees worth STPs which the water board cannot maintain, he says.