Floods, Fury and Government: What Went Wrong in Hyderabad

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 Islamic organisations, including the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), Sahayata Trust, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and FEED arranged relief kits in the flood-hit areas as were several individuals of each locality that was worst-hit by the rains.

The waters from the flash floods painted a horrific picture of devastation that will serve as a grim reminder for the municipal administration that turned a blind eye to encroachments

 Syed Khaled Shahbaaz | Clarion India

HYDERABAD — Four days after the rain fury in Hyderabad, intermittent rains on Saturday instilled fear in the hearts of Hyderabadis. Residents in Salala Colony in Barkas, a densely-populated, Muslim-dominated locality, continue to battle cold waters that breached their homes on October 14, when Hyderabad witnessed the highest rainfall in a century.

With no drinking water, no electricity and no hope of waters receding without municipal intervention, many are trapped indoors and some have abandoned their homes to nearby safe zones. Those who couldn’t muster courage to sail the make-shift rafts, chose to remain indoors, praying for a ‘divine intervention’. There are nearly 2,000 homes in the area affected by torrential rains. But Barkas is not alone to suffer this plight.

The waters from the flash floods painted a horrific picture of devastation that will serve as a grim reminder for both the municipal administration that turned a blind eye to encroachments, and the citizens who chose to dwell on areas that once were part of the catchment for the reservoirs. Elders reminisced about the 1908 floods that drowned Hyderabad, while others recollected the 2006 deluge.

After the Hyderabad floods in 1908, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan, commissioned a City Improvement Board that took measures to prevent any catastrophic damage to the historical city due to flood waters, particularly in river Musi. Sir Visveswarayya, the Dewan of Mysore, was consulted by the Nizam, who proposed the two lakes be built to stop the flooding problem in Hyderabad.

During the reign of the seventh Nizam, an eponymous lake, Osman Sagar, was built a hundred feet above the city level, which completes a centenary this year. A few years later, the Himayat Sagar lake was built parallel to the Osman Sagar. Since then, Hyderabad has evolved into Greater Hyderabad, tanks and nalas that were used for water flow were encroached.

The 2020 Hyderabad floods forced gates of both lakes–that now serve as two of the city’s main water reservoirs–to open after they brimmed. While it might have been a magical sight, the destruction that ensued with the water flowing into encroached territories made it deadlier than dearer.

Nine members of a family were killed after a wall collapsed in Bandlaguda; one person drowned as his car lost all gravity to gushing flood waters; another person was washed away but rescued alive a kilometer away; eight members of another family were washed away. Some drowned, some electrocuted and senior citizens were frightened at the slightest thunder.

The government’s response to rain was swift but the aftermath of the 14 October flash floods reflect in the ruins, darkness and devastation that entailed. According to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, the state suffered a loss of Rs 5,000 crore. In just 48 hours, the TRS government’s dreams of developing Hyderabad on the lines of Singapore were swept away, and along with it the tag ‘Golden Telangana’.

Despite swift response by the GHMC in restoring power in most areas, and pressing machinery in action for repairs, citizens detested its lack of preparedness to handle storm water. Some blamed the government to turn a blind eye to encroachments while others lashed out at the local leaders surveying the affected areas. Meanwhile, social activists claimed that the problem is much older than the newly-created state.

According to the Mazher Hussain, Executive Director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), “the present disastrous situation is the result of collective mistakes and blunders committed by successive governments, policy makers, vested groups and even the citizens, characterised by a marked disregard for environment, defection urban planning and proper land usage.” The organisation urged the government for an ‘urban restructuring’ of Hyderabad and a ‘hydrological map’ to be schemed for the entire city.

Youngsters shared videos of the Hyderabad deluge on Instagram, and tagged city police on social media for help. Photo journalists braved the waters to capture the last-mile pictures of the affected localities. Local leaders surveying the areas weren’t treated to the usual welcome. The city’s political top brass surveyed the areas on foot.

Minister of Urban Development K T Rama Rao, Hyderabad Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi and local leaders surveyed the affected areas and called for relief. Local volunteers and many NGOs attempted to plug the gap in relief and rehab.

“There was no electricity, no cellphones and not even drinking water. We were helpless but happy to be alive. I’m sorry for those who couldn’t survive”, said 43-year old Shoeb Khan who recently moved into Nadeem Colony that floods every rainy season. Rescue rafts and air tubes are a common sight in the locality during rains as the area is built on what once used to be a waterbed.

Another healthcare non-profit, Helping Hand Foundation run by Mujtaba Askari, is using Masjid Mohammed-e-Mustafa at Pillar No 230 on PVNR Express Way as its Command and Control Centre for flood relief work from where it controls 5 vans, 25 volunteers and food and blanket distribution. The organisation surveyed slums for ‘clean-up operations’ and concluded that “hundreds of daily wagers who were already grief-stricken by the covid pandemic and the lockdown are now rendered homeless due to flood waters.”

Meanwhile, Islamic organisations, including the Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), Sahayata Trust, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and FEED arranged relief kits in the flood-hit areas as were several individuals of each locality that was worst-hit by the rains.

The government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the families of those who lost their lives in floods. It has announced that all encroachers will be dealt with strictly. As for numbers, the Kirloskar Committee report, which submitted its findings after the 2006 floods, there are more than 13,500 illegal constructions while the Voyants Consultancy report identified 28,000 encroachments. When the municipal elections happen, the ruling party faces a bigger challenge. It must prove its promises beyond paperwork, and truly make efforts to dream up a ‘Golden Telangana’.

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