Sinking under poor planning: Hyderabad flooding a result of grabbing of lakes, storm drains

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October 20, 2020 6:30 AM

The loss to life apart, the economic cost is already pegged at Rs 5,000 crore by the state government; given a second spell of rainfall has just begun and is forecast by the weatherman to get more intense over the week, the final figure could be larger.

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With over 60 people dead from heavy rainfall in Telangana—capital Hyderabad is among the worst-affected—development authorities and businesses operating in the related segments must face scrutiny. The loss to life apart, the economic cost is already pegged at Rs 5,000 crore by the state government; given a second spell of rainfall has just begun and is forecast by the weatherman to get more intense over the week, the final figure could be larger. Hyderabad’s inundation is, without doubt, the result of extremely poor urban planning and development. To start with, the city’s drainage infrastructure has not been revamped since decades—even chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had noted this in 2016 while seeking three-four years time to revamp this at an estimated cost of Rs 11,000 crore. It was only in July that a study to look at the city’s drainage system commenced. The city, as per estimates by various NGOs, needs at least 2-2.5 times the length of drainage network that exists currently. Add to that the senseless claiming of the city’s water bodies for residential purposes, and it isn’t surprising that the deluge over the past week brought the city to its knees.

Hyderabad experienced such flooding at least four times in the past two decades—twice in the last five years—and yet little has been done to remedy the situation. Lake beds have been encroached with impunity, something that the Kirloskar committee flagged in 2003. A galloping demand for land and residence has contributed to rapid, unplanned urbanisation—between 1990 and 2015, the city’s concrete cover nearly doubled, from 45,000 ha to 87,000 ha, while illegal encroachments on stormwater drains have also doubled from 13,500 (in 2003, as per Kirloskar report) to 28,000 (in 2017, as per Voyants Consultancy). This is sure to have grown in the five years since 2015. Incidentally, in 2017, Telangana urban development minister and the chief minister’s son, KT Rama Rao, had termed the Kirloskar committee recommendations “impractical” in the current context; had the Kirloskar committee report been implemented by 2005, it would have required the removal of just 1,400 illegal constructions to free up significant stormwater drainage. This should serve to highlight how inaction has led to the problem festering for years, thereby, eroding the efficacy of potential solutions. The area under water bodies has shrunk from 6,000 hectares to 4,700 hectares, with the area under river/streams shrinking by almost half. While civil society organisations talk about historical record showing nearly 6,000-7,000 lakes and small water bodies in the state, most of these have been lost to construction—the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority’s Lake Protection Committee has identified just over 3,000 lakes while it has issued the final notification for just over 200. While the Telangana government, and even an expert panel of the National Green Tribunal, which is hearing a case on illegal encroachment of the riverbed and lakes in the city, have noted the severity of the problem, what has been pending for decades is action and political will. If this year’s floods don’t spur authorities, the future is going to be even bleaker; O Kit et al note in their chapter for the 2011 Springer publication Resilient Cities that the city is poorly adapted “to extremely intensive rainfalls which occur due to the monsoon precipitation regime and are expected to occur more frequently under future climate change”.

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