Removal of illegal structures and improvement in facilities are needed.
Hyderabad city received very heavy rains and floods in a century (112 years to be precise) after a downpour on Tuesday. The heavy rains occurred due to a depression in the Bay of Bengal that crossed the Andhra coast at the same time when monsoon clouds are still active in the South. As the heavy downpour continued for four to six hours—from 12 in the afternoon to 9 pm—most of the areas received a whopping 30 cm (which is equal to three months’ average in the city). Hundreds of residential colonies were marooned in the rainwater, thousands of homes went dark because of power outages and roads were breached as flood waters were everywhere. Several old buildings crumbled and the city roads became unfit for motorists. Thousands of apartments were flooded with water because of which people living there could not step out. The IT corridor on the west of the city got flooded and the government had to close all offices for two days—14 and 15 October—to clear the debris and restore the roads.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Wednesday and enquired about the loss of life and property due to the heavy rains. KCR, in a detailed letter to the PM the next day, said that as many as 30 people had died and properties worth Rs 3,000 crore were damaged in the rains.
The Musi river, which cuts across Hyderabad city, saw major floods in 1908 and caused hundreds of deaths and vast destruction. In the last three decades, Musi—a tributary to Krishna river—which mostly carries sewage water, witnessed floods three or four times, but those were not of the present scale, 2.6 lakh cusecs in a day.
Hyderabad has some lessons to learn from this experience.
The 1908 floods in Musi have become a part of the city’s folklore. People still gather at a tamarind tree on the northern bank of Musi as it saved more than 100 people who climbed up on it on the night of the floods. The then ruler of Hyderabad state, 7th Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan personally supervised the flood relief measures and later built a bridge on the river.
Taking lessons from the floods, the Nizam called famous engineer Viswewsharaiah from Mysore and constructed a world class drainage system for Hyderabad. The drainage system was ready by the 1930s when the city’s population was just three lakh. Experts say the system was designed to meet the needs of a population of six to 10 lakh.
Currently, the city is spread over 850 sq km and has a population of around 1.10 crore, but still depends on the same drainage system. Dozens of surrounding municipalities have been merged with the city, ballooning from the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) two decades ago.
Vast corridors of IT and pharmaceuticals have been added to the city and scores of suburban localities with industrial parks and financial districts have been created around the city, thus triggering an unwieldy growth of constructions everywhere. Soaring prices of real estate have prompted massive conversion of agricultural lands into non-agricultural over the years.
The scurry of development has left little scope for proper planning and provisioning for phased expansion of facilities like drainage and housing. As a result, the mushrooming growth of housing colonies has edged out many water bodies. According to a study, around 300 tanks have disappeared from the city because of increased real estate activity. As a result of this, all the low-lying housing colonies have been submerged by the floods this week. A GHMC officer remarked on Friday that it appeared as if all the encroached tanks have come alive after the rains. And those who are suffering are innocent people who have bought houses on this encroached land. The government has just announced a layout regularisation scheme for Hyderabad and lakhs of people have applied for it along with some penalty. The last date for the application is 31 October and the timeline for their regularisation is March next year. Once these layouts, obviously illegal, are regularised, there is no guarantee that there won’t be fresh illegal layouts.
The calamity that visited Hyderabad in the form of floods this week is not uncommon in India. Similar rain-triggered floods have marooned Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru too, in the last few years. The removal of illegal structures and improvement in facilities are the simple solutions. But having the political will to implement them is not simple.