On August 24, 2000, Hyderabad lived through a nightmare of near-deluge as torrential rains, with 240 mm recorded within a span of 24 hours, played havoc with the city’s infrastructure, inundated hundreds of colonies and threw normal life out of gear.
It was a time when the city’s tryst with technology and its emergence as a hot destination for global investments were the toast of the national media. Shaken out of its complacency, the then Telugu Desam Party government, headed by N Chandrababu Naidu, constituted an expert committee to recommend measures to improve civic infrastructure and modernise the drainage system.
Two decades later, the much-touted Information Technology hub has only gone from bad to worse in terms of its civic infrastructure. The key recommendations of Kirloskar Consultants Committee, including removal of thousands of illegal encroachments, remain only on paper.
The city bore the brunt of rain fury again early this week with over 35 locations receiving more than 21 cm rainfall, beating the previous record of 11.7 cm in 1903. The battering has laid bare the vulnerabilities of the city’s Nizam’s era drainage system, which was designed to handle only 12 mm of rain per hour.
The storm water drains, constructed during 1930s, were meant for a population of five lakh and a municipal area of 54 sq. km but the city population has now crossed one crore and the area covers 625 sq. km. Most new settlements and colonies outside the core area of Hyderabad and on the peripheries are examples of unplanned urban growth and unregulated planning.
Picture of negligence
Experts have attributed the havoc to the poor urban planning, a woeful drainage system, unbridled encroachments of the lake beds and the poor condition of the Musi river which runs through the city.
A survey undertaken by the municipal corporation has revealed that Musi river is cluttered with over 12,000 encroachments which block the natural flow of rain water, leading to inundation of residential colonies.
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The choking of streams and drainage channels due to illegal constructions, coupled with poor sewage and waste management, has resulted in reduced holding capacity of the city lakes. A modern drainage system for the city, suggested by renowned engineer and irrigation expert Mokshagundam Viseswarayya way back in 1910, still remains a dream.
“If the Kirloskar Committee’s report is to be implemented, about 28,800 properties will have to be razed, spending about Rs 12,000 crore as compensation. This is impractical and involves displacement of several slum dwellers,” an official of the municipal department admitted.
Flood mitigation plan
“The focus of the present government in the last six years has been only on flyovers and bridges. The rapid and unbridled urbanisation has been going on with a scant regard for flood mitigation plans in the city,” said C Ramachandraiah, a Professor at the city-based Centre for Economic and Social Studies,
The course of the Musi river has been narrowed at many places in the city because of encroachments. Its path has to be straightened by removing high-rise buildings that came up on the river bunds to make way for free flow of waters. The government should prepare itself to relocate and rehabilitate the dwellers residing on the river bunds, he said.
“Nalas (streams) and drainage channels are getting choked with construction debris, and domestic and industrial waste, causing flooding,” Ramachandraiah said.
The GHMC has 1,221 km of storm water drain which is insufficient and causing water stagnation at various localities during rainy season. Apart from this, lakes and nalas are encroached upon resulting in a reduction of the capacity of the lakes and nalas.
Aging drainage system
Hyderabad has an aged drainage and sewerage system, with only 1,500 km of drain main canals and 2 lakh manholes, as against a requirement of 5,500 km of drain canals and 4.20 lakh manholes. Over the past six decades, nothing much has been done towards remodelling the drains.
The civic activists contend that the successive governments have failed to complete the remodelling and widening of storm water drains even 8 to 10 years after it was conceptualised.
Every year, during the monsoon season, parts of the city get flooded because of encroachments on the nalas which decreases the ability of these drainage channels to carry off the extra water. The work of widening nalas and demolishing encroachments has been painfully slow.
“We have created barriers to the flow of water across the city and heavy rainfall will obviously have an impact. We need a city-based flood plan because now we know where the water is logging and how it is flowing. We need to fix this and that firstly involves fixing existing storm water drains,” said Prof Purushotham Reddy, environmental activist.
The experts point out that one of the biggest failures of the city planners has been in the area of waste management. “With all the industrial waste and sewage being dumped into the lakes, the holding capacity of the lakes has been severely affected. Add to this the mushrooming of encroachments, you have a recipe for disaster,” Reddy said.
A 2016 report of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) had estimated that Hyderabad had lost 3,245 hectares of its wetlands. Rapid urbanisation has significantly altered the natural water course and watersheds.
“Because of unplanned growth, especially in low-lying areas and areas below the old tanks of the city, the water overflowed and flooded entire colonies. Occupation of storm water drains is the other reason for the flooding,” said Padmanabha Reddy, secretary of the Forum for Good Governance, a city-based NGO.
The fact that over 1,000 colonies were inundated during the recent flash floods points to the level of encroachments. No political party can afford to antagonise such a large number of people before elections for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) slated for next month.