Lake encroachments led to flooding

Messages for help started within hours of downpour

The message for help was on social media within hours of the beginning of the downpour on Tuesday night. The location: Chakradhar Colony, Nagaram. A quick search on the map reveals the colony to be built to the north of the Nagaram lake. Search for the locality 20 years ago and it doesn’t exist. Twenty years ago, the land where the colony exists now was part of the lake. Till 2015 the colony didn’t exist.

The same story repeats in various other localities where flooding has wrecked havoc due to the heaviest rainfall in recorded history in Hyderabad. Boduppal, Bandari Colony, Nadeem Colony, Macca Colony, Singareni Colony, Vambay Colony and Gaganpahad area. A corollary to the flooding in these localities is no change in the water quality or levels in the lake near Taj Banjara Hotel, Masab Tank and Mir Alam Tank. On Thursday when the city was coming to terms with the flood and estimating the damage, rain water didn’t even dislodge the water hyacinth plants in the Mir Alam Tank or the pond scum in Masab Tank.

Housing colonies

But the same could not be said about the lakes and tanks in the southern part of Hyderabad. Yerra Kunta, Madikunta, Jalapalli, Umda Sagar and Palle Cheruvu were just a series of interconnected lakes bound by rocks and natural terrain about 20 years ago. But a series of housing colonies for the poor built on land reclaimed from lakes and encroachments by prospectors has shrunk the lakes. On Thursday water overflowed the lakes and flowed onto the roads and open spaces. But on Wednesday at about 1.20 a.m., water from these lakes had raced onto opens spaces and crashed a wall, upturned vehicles plying on roads and killed at least three persons in the Gaganpahad area.

“What could have been a miracle of nature has been turned into an object of terror due to government policies,” says Lubna Sarwath of Save Our Urban Lakes who has been campaigning against encroachments in lake beds. “We need a mechanism like lake tribunals that will take quick and informed decisions rather than depend on civil courts which take time,” says Ms. Sarwath.

Incidentally, the flooding has affected many plots that have been created on the lake beds near Jalapally. “Encroached land is almost free but if the same plot has to be purchased it will cost a lot. That’s why lake beds have become easy targets. It is not population pressure but land value pressure that is driving this destructive growth,” says B. V. Subba Rao who works in the field of convergence and sustainability.

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