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If Hyderabad Is Flooded, Blame It On The Hyderabadis

Did someone say 'world class city'?

02/09/2016 3:17 PM IST | Updated 02/09/2016 3:18 PM IST
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TS Sudhir
An image of flooded Hyderabad.

On Wednesday morning, when over 6 cm of rainfall over four hours converted Hyderabad into several ponds, Municipal commissioner B Janardhan Reddy came up with a brainwave. "Do not venture out of home for another hour'' he said sometime around 9:15 am, hoping less commuters on the road would translate to less chaos. He expected that by the time Hyderabadis stepped out, the sky would have turned off its tap.

Not a bad suggestion, especially since it would translate to less SOS calls to the administration. But the morning demonstrated what Hyderabad is not. It is not a world-class city by any stretch of imagination. In fact, if you ignore the fancy PPTs and high-cost glossy coffee table books, and digest Reddy's statistics, Hyderabad should thank its stars the rain God has not been too generous because if it was, Hyderabad would be Chennai everyday. In fact, August, before the heaven opened up on the last day of the month, had recorded a deficit rainfall of 41 per cent.

Deccan Chronicle quotes Reddy as saying : "The storm water drains were built to service a population of 30 to 50 lakh and the city now has 1.2 crore people. An increasing number of houses do not lay separate sewer lines and connect to existing ones, thus increasing the burden.''

TS Sudhir

The 2001 census had recorded Hyderabad's population as 36 lakh. It recorded a 87 per cent jump in the next ten years to grow to 68 lakh people. Not surprising, as this decade coincided with the time when Hyderabad's brand equity as a software destination saw a spiral, leading to a large number of non-Hyderabadis making the city their home.

Does Reddy mean to say that this unforseen influx of people contributed to this mess? Should Hyderabad have put up a 'No Entry' board because there is no space underground for all their s**t?

Does Reddy mean to say that this unforseen influx of people contributed to this mess? Should Hyderabad have put up a 'No Entry' board because there is no space underground for all their s**t? Don't futuristic cities plan with the next 50 years in mind at least?

It seems farcical for the man in charge of ensuring the city is well-planned to say that a large number of houses do not conform to the rules of connecting their sewer lines. Isn't it a fact that builders have to pay upfront for adding to the existing number of sewerage connections?

Who takes responsibility for the occupancy certificates that were dished out when builders did not adhere to basic town planning norms? Should one assume that there is a rate card for the GHMC and the Hyderabad Water Supply and Sewerage Board to turn a blind eye to a non-sewer line building construction?

Systematic killing of the water bodies in this city of lakes is another reason for the mess. Architect Srinivas Murthy says he was going through maps of Hyderabad from the 1930s and found there were as many as eight major drains that emptied into the Hussainsagar lake, a water body built in the heart of the city. "All those natural water drains are clogged now because of uncontrolled physical expansion of Hyderabad. Further the maps show the lake empties into Musi river flowing through the south of the city but those drains are all encroached today,'' says Murthy.

TS Sudhir

The city has over 9000 km of roads -- and some of you would add, dotted with potholes -- but only 1500 km has storm water drains alongside. Which is why 84 per cent of the city's roads turn into an extended drain when it pours like it did on Wednesday. The cash-rich Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) reportedly has no motors to pump water from flooded roads. So it has to depend on the rain to stop and the sun to make an appearance to reclaim the city's roads.

Did someone say 'world class city'?

It is not as if Hyderabad is a pauper. The GHMC collected Rs 1063 crore in property tax in 2014-15 and Rs 1050 crore in 2015-16, the dip coming only because officials were more busy conducting GHMC elections in January this year. If a bulk of this capital is not being spent on the city, where is it going?

If Hyderabad is getting flooded, it is because of manmade interventions – a case of rank bad planning and failure to ensure best practises.

I think Hyderabad deserves an answer.

For long, the previous Andhra rulers have been blamed for the mess in Hyderabad. That is history now and Telangana has got rid of them. When the Hyderabad electorate voted in overwhelming numbers for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, minister in charge KT Rama Rao promised a 100-day action plan. Wednesday's experience showed that the plan has remained largely on paper and television soundbites.

Hyderabad is lucky it is located 536 metres above sea level, unlike a Chennai which is just about 6 m above sea level, making it much easier for ocean water to flood it. If Hyderabad is getting flooded, it is because of manmade interventions – a case of rank bad planning and failure to ensure best practises. This is a city, like many others in India, where the disgraceful and inhuman practise of manual scavenging is still in vogue, leading to deaths. Even August recorded four deaths.

Citizens have to step up as well. The problem with Hyderabad is the chalta hai attitude and absence of vibrant civil society groups that you find in a Bengaluru.

Governments are happy in the lap of the ex-gratia culture whereby they can announce an amount from the taxpayers' fund and wash their guilt away. Crisis management is essential but the powers-that-be cannot be rewarded for that. They should in fact, be pushed to ensure against a crisis the next time.

Citizens have to step up as well. The problem with Hyderabad is the chalta hai attitude and absence of vibrant civil society groups that you find in a Bengaluru. The need is for asking tough questions without the fear of being labelled "anti-Telangana'' should your question be unpalatable to the government of the day.

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