For the last one week that Hyderabad has been facing the fury of the Rain God, most of the 5000-odd officials of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) have put in 20-hour long work days. Many of them have spent the nights out on the field, reaching out to areas under water. Add to that another 20000 outsourced staff the GHMC engages for different kinds of work. They have by and large, ensured that Hyderabad - despite transforming into a lunar mess, riddled with potholes, overflowing drains, an arterial road caving in, vehicles floating in water and bikes riding into open manholes hidden by a sheet of water - somehow survived.
On Saturday evening, when they expected a pat on their back from chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for the hard work, he delivered a stinging slap instead. In response to a question over whether action will be taken against the officials who gave the go-ahead to the construction of 28000 illegal structures over drains, preventing the flow of water into the Musi river, KCR replied that if he were to take action against corrupt staff, "not a single officer will be left in the GHMC.''
In one stroke, KCR had put the official stamp over what the aam aadmi thinks GHMC actually expands to Greater Hyderabad Mamool Commission. Mamool and Commission are slang used for bribe. With more potholes than road in the city now, Greater Hyderabad has been reduced to Crater Hyderabad.
KCR is not off the mark. Officers in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) reckon the GHMC, especially its town planning and revenue wings, to be one of the most corrupt bodies in Telangana. As recent as last month, Santhosh Venu, an assistant city planner in the town planning wing of GHMC, was arrested by the ACB for allegedly possessing illegal assets worth Rs 10 crore, highly disproportionate to his known sources of income. He had acquired about 15 houses of varying sizes in different parts of Hyderabad.
But to believe that the staff is all corrupt and black while innocent as a lamb ministers and IAS officers look on helplessly, is to completely misread the system. The percentage system works flawlessly at most government offices, extremely well-oiled to ensure everyone gets his portion of the cake. Every signature at every desk has a pre-designated price which goes up if the client is looking to flout the rules. The builder lobby greases the palm at every step in the GHMC ladder, to ensure the officials are blind to the violations when plans are submitted for approval.
Not to say there aren't honest officials in the GHMC. An activist who works with urban planning recounts the case of a corporate hospital calling one of the top GHMC officials, asking for permission to construct one extra floor, in complete violation of the rules. The official aware that the hospital group was just too powerful to take 'No' for an answer, instructed the town planning division to inspect the building and merely express its inability to clear it. All he was doing was to ensure he was not the one to flout the rule and keep his conscience clear as he was aware that the hospital owner had huge clout. A few months down the line, if the extra floor is constructed, one will know that someone higher than the official has greenlighted it. Needless to say, for a consideration.
KCR has promised to demolish the 28000 illegal settlements, to take Hyderabad one step closer to its goal of becoming a world-class city. That would be easier said than done, as his Karnataka counterpart Siddaramaiah would tell him. After the July floods, Siddaramaiah went after the illegal structures that had come over the storm water drains, inviting a lot of criticism from those who lost a roof over the head.
It was easier to target the middle class citizens of Bengaluru. The real challenge will be to crack the whip on the biggies who have constructed glitzy hotels and shopping malls by encroaching on lake beds and drains. Tough given the stranglehold of the real estate lobby over the political establishment of Karnataka. A large number of MLAs, cutting across party lines, look to the builders for funding and with elections less than two years away in Karnataka, demolitions may mean demolishing their political future.
Nearly 60 per cent of the corporators in the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation come from a real estate background which essentially means the construction sector rules Bengaluru.
The Kirloskar Committee which was appointed after the Hyderabad floods of 2000, pointed out in its report submitted in 2003 that 13500 illegal properties have sprouted on the nallahs. That number in the last 13 years has doubled to 28000. They have come up over 390 km stretch of drains and about 169 water bodies. What's worse, these settlers dump 56 metric tonnes of garbage daily into Hyderabad's ecosystem, further choking the outlets. A majority of these settlements have found themselves under water in the last one week. The government estimates GHMC will need Rs 11000 crore to remove these encroachments.
KCR can gloat that Hyderabad did not suffer loss of life like Chennai did. He can find fault with the media by claiming that it made the story of a 3-4 colonies going under water into a story about Hyderabad flooding. Strange he should say that because he is the one who called in the Army to help out. Strange he should forget that Hyderabad has received 464 mm of rain so far this September when the usual rainfall is 84 mm, making it 448% more than normal. Now which CM would do that if only some part of Hyderabad was flooded.
But the real challenge for KCR will be to walk the talk. Tough, given the politically corrupt slush that rules the system. Will the same GHMC, labelled 100 per cent corrupt by the CM, now be asked to clear the mess it has created?
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