Families Continue To Suffer as New Documentary Explores Expert Perspectives on Hyderabad Floods

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Residents carry their belongings help a woman while making their way on a flooded street in Hyderabad on October 14. — AFP

Several homes abandoned by the locals have not been visited in nearly two months, and the locality has turned into an inundated ghost town of sorts

Syed Khaled Shahbaaz | Clarion India

HYDERABAD – A 55-year-old Sudanese national, Yousif Mohamed Siddig, who can only speak Arabic, couldn’t hide his grief. His tearful eyes longed to see any sign of his 23-year old son Mohammed Maawiya Yousif, who has been missing since October 14 and is believed to have been washed away while he was approaching the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.

Maawiya was on his way in a cab to board a flight back to his home country Sudan from Hyderabad when gushing waters from Gaganpahad are said to have swept him away. Despite police efforts and even after more than 50 days, he continues to be missing. No surprise that Siddig had a nightmarish experience while looking for his son, without any grasp of the local language or even English, and in a land over 5,000 km away from his home.

Siddig hasn’t lost hope and believes his son would be found soon, with some more help from the police and the people. Maawiya’s friend Mohammed Zubair, who alerted the police, and also his father, are the only links of communication between him and anyone they are meeting for help. Similar is the plight of a family that lost half a dozen members to gushing flood waters, as well as other families that suffered the wrath of torrential rains in October.

Many localities, including Osman Nagar, still continue to be under stagnated water that has now turned greenish due to the growth of algae. Several homes abandoned by the locals have not been visited in nearly two months, and the locality has turned into an inundated ghost town of sorts. While some political parties, in the run-up to the recent elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Coproration (GHMC), included resolutions to prevent the flooding problems in their manifesto, a significant segment of the locals did not find their electoral promises worthy of support.

The flood-hit families and localities without hesitation vent their anger on politicians and local leaders touring the affected areas. Aggravated by the suffering, they appealed to fellow locals to choose NOTA (None Of The Above) in the civic polls. Some threw litter and some shouted slogans at the politicians visiting these localities. Ironically, both the poor and the rich were affected, with the former having no means of swinging back to normalcy after the devastation.

On October 13, with a depression similar to the one in 1908, city’s flooded reservoirs let out water after reaching their full capacity, as nature protested against the encroachments by flooding whatever stood in its way, including people and properties.

The Nizam of Hyderabad, in his poetic flair once described Hyderabad as:

Duniya Yeh Kehti Hai Sadaqat Ki Kasam Kha Kar,

Urooj-e-Shaan o Shaukat Mein Mulk-e-Deccan Ko Dekho!

True to the Nizam’s proclamation, Hyderabad, known for its many virtues, including visionary planning and infrastructure, has been one of the richest cities, not just in terms of culture, heritage and lifestyle, but also for its exemplary hydrological network that was designed to double as a natural flood management system–a system the city has continued to rely on for over a hundred years, even until its ascent on the global map in recent years.

In stark contrast, the flood prevention and hydrological balance management architecture of the 19th century–an interconnected network of nearly 3,000 lakes commissioned by the Sixth Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Mahboob Ali Pasha to prevent flooding in Hyderabad have withered, if not obliviated with time.

it’s not just the landscapes that have changed over time. As Hyderabad evolved into Greater Hyderabad, and population multiplied, the open spaces gradually transformed into urban colonies, not sparing even areas that once served as lake beds or catchment for reservoirs, explains a new documentary published by the University of Hyderabad.

Produced by the University of Hyderabad, the documentary questions the onus of responsibility for such tragedies while attributing the disasters to the negligence and oversight of both the successive state governments and the public that greedily or otherwise purchased lands in waterways indirectly creating an impasse. Aptly titled “Why Did Hyderabad Drown?”, it puts together perspectives from experts in different disciplines on the reasons behind flooding of Hyderabad which was made flood-proof by the Nizams after the 1908 floods.

The government and the municipal administration have repaired broken bridges and damaged roads, but landfills, untreated domestic waste, debris from the broken parapet walls of the bridge that fell into the river, and unregulated construction continue to plague the city’s hydrological system.

According to the Vice Chairman of Telangana Planning Board B. Vinod Kumar, new construction should not be allowed (in these areas) and future construction must be curbed. He added that the “government is seriously pursuing the issue, and has recently announced a programme to protect the nalas under the Strategic Nala Protection Program”.

Earlier this year, the Telangana state government responded to the High Court’s PIL filed after taking suo moto notice, by taking measures to prevent such encroachments it had certainly not predicted the ensuing disasters. The Minister for  Municipal Administration and Urban Development K. Taraka Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, launched a helpline number 18005990099 in June to help people alert the government on encroachments. The government demolished some properties, cancelled permissions for reputed real estate kingpins in such vulnerable areas, and as part of protecting the lakes. It announced a new GHMC Act that gave powers to the civic body to demolish illegal constructions around water bodies. More than 12,182 such constructions were identified.

In the documentary, experts also point out that this urbanisation is a meticulously planned effort of the land mafia, which identifies such lands near water bodies, poisons and dirties the water making it inhabitable for fishermen and washermen to live nearby, and then gradually landfills take place silently.

Activists argue in the documentary that with rapid concretisation of Hyderabad, and fast-shrinking open spaces and drains, the city’s storm water drains are not at their optimum. Thanks to encroachments, dumped waste is clogging open nalas, and shrinking the storm water network. The system needs to be quickly fortified, if not overhauled, as lake protection activists have warned in a series of videos that circulated on social media after the floods.

With changing weather patterns causing weather aberrations, Hyderabad may likely face similar devastation due to rains or even worse and the wrath of the rivers faced by the city in a century’s time may be a frequently recurring disaster, for both the citizenry and the government.

As experts say in the documentary, the encroachments must be cleared, new construction in vulnerable zones must not be permitted, drains and storm waterways lost in urbanisation must be optimised, land mafia controlled, laws diligently implemented and awareness must be created among the general public that the piece of land they would buy in these areas is a ticking time bomb–a disaster waiting to happen, as in the case of recent floods.

That said, will there be a sense of consciousness if not guilt among the law-breakers? Will the government actually implement the recommendations of the Kirloskar committee, one among which is to widen nalas? Will the people who suffered the rain fury forgive those responsible or will ignorance continue to prevail? Only time will tell. Until then, the destruction from the October floods will serve as a horrific reminder of how the negligence of municipal authorities, land encroachments and the failure of successive state governments cost many people their life and most of them their life’s savings.

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