For the better part of last week, Nizampet, one of the fastest growing suburbs around Hyderabad’s IT corridor, looked nothing like an urban cluster. Its already abysmal roads were virtually transformed into rivers, as heavy rains lashed the city. Its residents carried their belongings through the flooded streets, trudging to drier land.
To understand why the suburb submerged, you only need to compare Google maps of 2003 and 2016. An urban jungle developed in a low-lying trough between two water bodies, it was a disaster waiting for happen. The houses marketed as Lake View apartments turned into apartments in a lake overnight.
The situation was no better in the central part of Hyderabad. In Brahmanwadi, just a stone’s throw away from the chief minister’s residence, water entered apartment cellars and houses on the ground floor. Rajesh, a mechanic, looked around helplessly as his refrigerator, washing machine and utensils floated inside his small house. “The officials come and distribute food packets,” said Rajesh. “But who will compensate me for all this loss.”
The Meterological department had predicted very heavy rainfall on Friday and Saturday and all schools and colleges were shut. Software companies gave employees the option to work from home, but that was not very useful given that many houses were not suitable to work out of.
Murali, clad in a raincoat, was holding his laptop and power cord in one hand and a pair of shoes and trousers in the other, wading through knee-deep water way to his office 2 km away. “It will take an hour for me to reach my work place, given the conditions,” he said.
It was as if the tap that was turned on last Monday was not turned off for most part of the week. This September, Hyderabad has seen 464mm of rainfall, a 448% increase over the normal 84mm. This is the wettest month since 1908, when floods in Hyderabad killed 15,000 people on September 28.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao may have patted his administration on the back, noting that it deserved compliments for ensuring “not even an animal died” in the floods, but Hyderabad happened because no lessons were learnt from Chennai 2015.
The template for the flooding was the same – very heavy rainfall, clogged drains and encroached water bodies. Not that the Hyderabad administration was unaware of the problems. After the Hyderabad floods of 2000, the Kirloskar committee went into the reasons behind the flooding and in its report submitted in 2003, pointed out that 13,500 illegal structures had come up on 390 km of drains. The fact that 173 km of that drainage network connected directly to the Musi river meant water flow was seriously impaired.
The report has gathered dust, with successive municipal commissioners reducing it to a statistical reference point. In 2005, Sanjay Jaju, who was then the municipal commissioner, said his civic body needs Rs 700 crore to clear the encroachments, an amount it does not have.
It is this lackadaisical attitude that has led to the number of encroachments increasing, to 28,000 in the last 13 years. And Chief Minister KCR says the government needs Rs 11,000 crore to clear them now.
Still, that is not the only issue. The illegal settlements generate 56 metric tonnes garbage every day, all of which goes into the same drains, further impeding water flow.
Disappearing water bodies
Hyderabad, like Bengaluru, was once a city of lakes. Over the past two decades, as it transformed into a major IT centre, 169 water bodies are estimated to have been encroached upon and converted into residential colonies and commercial complexes.
Planners blame the non-inclusion of an urban disaster management blueprint in the city’s growth. Disaster management expert WG Prasanna Kumar says disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption are yet to be mainstreamed into planning and project formulation and that is why cities face problems.
“We have a kneejerk reaction to a natural disaster because we do not have hazard risk vulnerability analysis in place,” said Prasanna Kumar. “The question to ponder over now is whether we create highways for storm water movement. Our storm water drains and critical infrastructure are climate and disaster sensitive. Yes, if they have to made so, the designs change and capital cost also goes up.”
The only Chennai-like mistake Hyderabad ensured it did not commit, was to ensure it released water from the swollen Hussainsagar lake at regular intervals once it reached it brimmed at 513.41 metres. Chandramohan, a social activist from Chennai who has been campaigning for the Tamil Nadu capital to learn from December 2015 and avoid a repeat this North-east monsoon, said, “Hyderabad has the same issue as Chennai in littering the few waterbodies with construction debris. Failure to desilt the drains properly has compounded the issue.”
Nevertheless, despite the floods being almost as bad as Chennai’s, Hyderabad did not get the same kind of play, both in print and on air because the Uri attack on September 18 dominated the headlines.
Regardless of the lack of media attention, it is important for Hyderabad that its government handles the clean-up act well. Admitting that corrupt officials of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation gave permissions to many illegal structures, the government has decided to crack down. “Flying squads for each of the 24 municipal circles, along with police officers, will be deployed to demolish unauthorised structures under construction,” said K Chandrasekhar Rao. “We will work on rehabilitating those who have encroached on drains and remove the settlements.”
The worst is not over yet for the city, though. After a Sunday’s break, the weather desk has predicted heavy rain until Wednesday, which means that residents will have to suffer this manmade disaster for a few more days.
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