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Lost lakes make Hyderabad live on a prayer

The Kirloskar Committee found the city's drainage system woefully inadequate, as it was designed for rainfall of up to 12 mm/ hr

Shruti Sarma  |  Hyderabad 

Lost lakes make Hyderabad live on a prayer

The last time Hyderabad witnessed heavy rains causing destruction was 15 years ago. On August 23, 2000, it received 24 mm of rain in a span of 24 hours and large parts of the city were submerged. The low-lying areas near the Hussain Sagar saw water reaching the first floor of homes and boats had to be deployed to rescue stranded people. Twenty-six people lost their lives, 35,693 homes were affected, and properties worth Rs 1.35 crore got destroyed.

The Kirloskar Committee, set up by the state government to study the flood, found the drainage system inadequate as it was designed for rainfall of up to 12 mm per hour. The committee also put the blame on illegal encroachment of natural water courses, dumping of garbage in open drains, construction of housing colonies in the foreshores of tanks, and disappearance of flood-absorbing tanks, among others.

The committee recommended an average width of drains to be between four and 50 metres to eliminate any threat in the next 50 years even if the city received a rainfall of 240 mm. The estimated expenditure was Rs 1,000 crore and it also suggested Rs 53.19 crore be allocated to clear 6,520 encroachments on different drains.

However, no progress has been made since then. This means, what happened in Chennai recently could happen in Hyderabad as well. In fact, it could be much worse, according to experts.

"Hyderabad's topography is completely different from Chennai's. While Chennai is more of a plain land closer to the sea, Hyderabad is undulating. So, the situation in Hyderabad could become much worse. In fact, Hyderabad's low-lying areas will be washed away," says C Ramachandraiah, professor of Urban Studies, Centre for Economic and Social Studies.

In 2014-15, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) spent only Rs 125.14 crore on construction and improvement of storm-water drains against its budget provision of Rs 335.5 crore. For conservation of rivers and lakes, it spent a paltry Rs 2.22 crore against a provision of Rs 70 crore. However, it overshot its budget of Rs 19.3 crore for construction and improvement of sewerage line, spending Rs 36 crore.

Lost lakes make Hyderabad live on a prayer
Hyderabad used to be called the 'City of Lakes' and unofficial estimates put the number of lakes at 2,400. However, Save Our Urban Lakes, a platform promoting the cause of water bodies in Hyderabad, now lists only six major lakes spread over 25 hectares. The Hyderabad Lakes & Water Bodies' Management Circle, a wing of the GHMC, has identified 169 lakes or water bodies for restoration and the state government has sanctioned Rs 100 crore for restoration of 64 lakes. However, these have failed to gather pace.

Officials point out their inability to speed up such work as it is not easy to remove encroachments, because of court cases and political pressure. Kirloskar panel, they say, has given its report without taking into consideration the ground reality and it is impractical to factor in the 50-year return period for all the drains. As a solution, they are going in for a five-year and a one-year return period. It has considered a rainfall of 56.2 mm an hour for the one-year return period and this enables them to keep the drain width less.

Jasveen Jairath, a water sector expert, says these would not solve the problem. Even in the new 'planned' areas of the city, there is no storm-water drainage. A glaring example is the Gachibowli area, the IT corridor of the city. It does not have a single storm-water drainage facility.

Normally, roads are made with a gradient so that the rainwater drains out fast. In Hyderabad, the medians obstruct the flow, clogging the elevated lane.

M Veda Kumar, president of Forum For A Better Hyderabad, says the city had the best underground drainage system and storm-water drainage designed by Visvesvaraya during the Nizam era after the Great Musi Flood of 1908. The subsequent governments have done little to improve it. Urban planners also lament the government's practice of making the illegal legal. "Our government takes pride in revenues it makes from regularising illegal buildings. The ongoing drive is the third time it has called for regularising illegal structures in less than 20 years," says Ramachandraiah. GHMC estimates around 60,000 illegal constructions within its limits.

Kumar says it is unfortunate the city is not learning anything from past experiences. It needs to prepare for high-intensity rainfall in a short period. "We need to plan for disaster since it comes without invitation."

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First Published: Wed, December 16 2015. 00:10 IST