The Neil Armstrongs of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) arrived to inspect the crater that had emerged just 500 metres from chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's office at the Telangana Secretariat in Hyderabad. Within a matter of minutes, the road around the hole started caving in, exposing gushing water underneath.
It won't be an exaggeration to say that the state of this arterial road in Hyderabad gives a sense of how the city has caved in under relentless rain in the last three weeks. All its claims of a world-class city gone up in smoke with vehicles floating in the water, homes flooded and residents scampering to retrieve their belongings.
This road that was named after the late NT Rama Rao, was built in the 90s, apparently with World Bank funds. Those maps were quickly brought out with engineers poring over them to see how the road could be repaired. "At this point in time, we cannot even diagnose the problem till the water from the drain that is going into the Hussainsagar lake under this road, is stopped. We are diverting the water,'' said an official of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
The municipal authorities blame the elements. In the intervening night of Tuesday-Wednesday, Hyderabad was pummelled by heavy rain, with Qutbullapur on the outskirts recording 16 cm rainfall. GHMC officials likened it to a cloudburst, pointing out that the city's infrastructure is good enough only to withstand 2 cm rainfall in a day.
The GHMC has as reference the Kirloskar committee report that was commissioned after the floods of 2000. The report submitted in 2003 identified 13500 illegal constructions that had been built over the drains. Thirteen years later, the number has increased to 28000, right under the GHMC nose. What is worse, many of them also pay property tax to the corporation, lending them legitimacy.
Here Hyderabad needs to take a leaf out of Bengaluru's book. Just like chief minister Siddaramaiah showed the political spine to clear out a large portion of the 2000 storm water rains that run through 857 km in the city, in the face of severe criticism. On the other hand, Telangana ministers cite legal obstacles in clearing the illegal constructions.
As it is the storm water drains were built only for a capacity of 12-20 mm. Now even that much water does not go in, because of the illegal settlers.
GHMC officials say the number of manholes need to be doubled from the present two lakh to four lakh, an exercise that will need a budget of over Rs 1200 crore. Only 15 per cent of the city's roads has storm water drains alongside which means for the remaining part, there is no outlet for the water to escape.
Part of the problem also is because like Bengaluru, Hyderabad has destroyed its water bodies, cutting off the magnificent system of one lake or pond emptying into the other during the monsoon. Jamali Kunta and Shah Hatem Talab are now golf courses while the lake in Uppal houses a residential colony. Other lakes like Anumula Kunta have been converted into public parks developed by the GHMC itself.
It is not as if it is all the present government's fault. Successive governments have turned a blind eye to cleaning up Hyderabad. In 2005, the then Hyderabad municipal commissioner Sanjay Jaju said it would need Rs 700 crore to implement the recommendations. He said his corporation did not have that kind of money.
In the last two years, the GHMC collected Rs 1063 crore (2014-15) and Rs 1050 crore (2015-16). The bulk of Telangana's revenue — roughly Rs 34000 crore — is generated in Hyderabad. The question that will obviously be asked if Hyderabad is indeed Telangana's jewel, why is it being allowed to wither away like this. It is only natural for the city to expect that a significant part of that revenue will be spent on its infrastructure.
It is not as if Telangana state is a pauper. Its finance minister presented a budget of Rs 1,15,689 crore so ideally there should be no death of funds to take Hyderabad to the next level. The problem is with the government's tendency to apply a bit of make-up in the form of tarred roads after the monsoon, only for the cracks to show up at the first shower.
The authorities are happy to resolve their never-ending monsoon woes by making good use of technology. They use Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp relentlessly to tell people not to venture out of their homes, whenever it rains. An indication of how badly prepared the city's managers are.
But you cannot say the Telangana government is blind to its faults. Perhaps the honest admission about the state of Hyderabad's roads came from the Traffic police's twitter handle @HYDTP on Wednesday. It said : "Traffic slowdown at Bowenpally Market towards Diamond Point due to road potholes.''