On 31 August, Hyderabadis were angry. A mere 3-5 cms of rain had led to the deaths of two children and five adults. Roads, colonies, and low-lying areas, especially slums, were waterlogged and traffic jams clogged almost all the main arteries of the capital city. The announcement of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation Commissioner B Janardhan Reddy that people should stay indoors and away from the roads was further proof of the lack of preparedness of the city’s managers.
The rain also led to the opening up of death traps — open manholes. In 2011, a lady bank manager was swept away in an open manhole and her body was recovered a few days later from a drain canal. Again in 2014, a 66-year-old was drowned in an open manhole just a few yards from his apartment in Himayatnagar. "Come rains and I don’t send my children to school, nor do I go to office," says High Court advocate Tirupati Verma.
"Though we can manage power supply, the issue of transporting workers or asking them to work from home has always affected our productivity," says a senior manager of a global IT unit in Cyberabad. "If the conditions don’t improve soon, we may relocate, though we are all clinging to Hyderabad for its air connectivity and availability of cheap and skilled labour," says another IT manager.
Traffic jams and power outages caused by heavy downpour and inundation are a major concern for the 4.5 lakh software personnel working in Hyderabad’s 3,600 global and start-up units. Almost every software unit in Hyderabad’s IT corridor has a contingency plan to face the challenge of absentee workers due to inclement weather. The BJP-TDP (Telugu Desam Party) combine in Opposition in Telangana plans to launch a 'Shaher Bachao Andolan' (Save the City Movement) over havoc caused by rains in the city.
Hyderabad is a city with a century-old drainage system pioneered by the late Sir M Vishweshwaraiah, an eminent engineer, who was sent by the Mysore Maharaja to the last Nizam Osman Ali Pasha in the early 1930s, following disastrous flooding of the Musi river. Successive governments have only made additions but not done a real overhaul of the entire drain and sewerage system. "We need a minimum of Rs 1,240 crores for overhaul of the entire drain and sewerage system of GHMC, which has 1500 kms of drains and over 2 lakh manholes," says a senior engineer of the city Corporation.
Commenting on the archaic and existing system, a retired GHMC engineer says that for effective control of drain water in the state capital, there is a need to extend the drain canals to 5,000 km from the present 1,500 km and put up nearly 4.2 lakh manholes from the present two lakh manholes. The city of Hyderabad has grown from 275 sq km in the 1990s to 675 sq km in 2000, and now to over 2,500 sq km, with the inclusion of nearly 12 municipalities and 300-odd villages. The extension of Hyderabad was done in a haphazard manner for political reasons to wean power from the political entities of TDP and MIM (Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen) in the state capital, according to political analysts.
An official of Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Works says that four of the six zones in GHMC do not have sewer trunk mains, and as a result all of the city’s sewerage is routed to the underground directly — meaning that manholes overflow during heavy rains. Currently all the sub mains (sewerage lines) are also directly connected to the nalas (canals) leading to overflow of the manholes. The GHMC opened manholes to drain rain water from waterlogged roads, which led to reverse flooding.
After he took over the Municipal Administration portfolio early this year, KT Rama Rao, son of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, launched a '100 days action plan' for GHMC to gear up for the rainy season. "I know what happens in Hyderabad during the rainy season since I am living here since my childhood and I want to avert it in future," he told the media after last Wednesday’s rains and flooding in the city. But Hyderabad residents feel that they are destined to suffer, no matter which government is in power. "Strange that this government and GHMC spent a fortune over populist schemes like the Rs 5 meal to the poor, but had no money to clean drains and cover manholes," says K Venu Madhav Rao, a resident of RTC Crossroads and a private school teacher.
However, GHMC Commissioner Janardhan Reddy said the residents of the state capital are equally to blame for the present predicament. He says that 90 percent of blocked drains in Hyderabad are mostly due to waste flushed down toilets, garbage dumped in open drains or directly into manholes. "Plastics, condoms, napkins, kitchen waste, cigarette butts, leftovers all thrown into open drains and manholes," he lamented.
V Nirmala Goud, a college lecturer and resident of Balanagar, said that to avoid paying extra for bulk garbage, hotels and hospitals dump garbage in open drains and manholes. Majority of hotels in Hyderabad are non-vegetarian and they throw animal waste also into public nalas. Similarly, roadside eateries dump their waste into manholes and drains. "Why is the GHMC not monitoring them and punishing them," asked Goud.
In May this year, in a suo motu case following the death of labourers in drains, the Hyderabad High Court had pulled up the city administration for not having a proper policy or strategy for cleaning drains and manholes. The court had also castigated the administration for washing their hands of responsibility in each manhole death case by simply awarding a compensation of a few lakhs of rupees. "The state should pay at least Rs 10 lakh compensation to the victims and not a paltry amount," said the court.
The Chief Public Relations Officer of the GHMC Venkata Ramana said that the present government inherited an almost defunct GHMC crippled by political interference during the last four years of Congress rule. "We are now striving to bring transparency and accountability by introducing several IT initiatives to cut red tape, speed up garbage clearance, drains and manhole repairs," he said.
Minister KT Rama Rao has vowed to spruce up the conditions of urban Hyderabad. "We know things are not good. We inherited a GHMC with huge arrears, agitating staff and obsolete systems. Slowly but steadily we are doing a good job, and have improved arrear collections, introduced IT solutions and systems. We have removed many encroachments on drainage nalas and tank beds,” he says.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao who has taken special interest in keeping Hyderabad clean and also waterlogging-free during monsoon said that there is no dearth of funds to elevate Hyderabad into a city of global standards. "In the last two years, we have put processes and infrastructure in place to make it as the choicest destination for not only investors but also local population, which is a mini India by itself," he said.
But Hyderabad is still a long way in achieving the 100 percent Swachh tag like Mysuru. Unless some drastic steps are taken as the Bengaluru civic authorities have done in the wake of recent flooding in the Garden City, Hyderabadis will continue to wade through inundated homes and roads.