Hussain Sagar is the crowning glory of the city of Hyderabad. One of the most recognizable spots of the city, the 'Necklace Road' runs around it and a large monolithic statue of Buddha stands on the Gibraltar Rock in the middle of it.
First built in 1563, under the rule of Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah, Hussain Sagar was designed by Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali and was fed by canals from the Musi river, which was Hyderabad's main source of water at the time.
"It was artificially dug up between 1559 and 1562, at the cost of Rs 2,54,000 that time, 30 years before the city was even founded. It was also the first 'Food for Work' project in the world, in a way," says Mohammed Safiullah, a city-based historian and the honorary managing trustee to the Deccan Heritage Trust.
It had no defined border-wall or fence, was the main source of water for settlements that had cropped up on that side of the city, and its water was also utilized for irrigation and drinking water needs until 1930.
Following the Musi flood of 1908, two more others like Hussain Sagar were set up around the city - the Osmansagar in 1920 and Himayat Sagar in 1927.
"Earlier, there were many inlets from the two into Hussain Sagar, and the water bodies were wonderfully interlinked. But over time, the builder-politician nexus has destroyed the water bodies," Safiullah says.
Today, an assassination of Hussain Sagar, the lake, is underway. And unless Hyderabad stops it, it risks a coup which can never be undone.
The lake is a sorry sight, with the stench of industrial effluents strong in the air. It was built over 1,600 hectares, now stands at a pitiful 4.4 sq km.
While acknowledging the cultural, historical and aesthetic appeal of the lake, a question that has to be brought up is what is the real purpose of the lake today?
Safiullah says that it still is a potential reservoir which can hold massive amounts of water. "We are still a relatively dry state. This year there was rain, but we can't say the same for every year. If the situation arises, we may need to recycle water and the Hussain Sagar can hold almost 1 tmc of water, which can be purified and used," he adds.
The Slow Poisoning
"When I was in school, one could see the backwaters of Hussain Sagar touching Raj Bhavan Road on one side and the old Begumpet airport on the other side. It would also touch the mint compound in the original secretariat under the Nizam rule," says 74-year-old Purushotham Reddy, one of the city's most noted environmentalists.
"It was a huge expanse of water with hardly any signs of buildings. There was no disturbance in the aquatic life as it was clean," he adds.
Over the years, the lake has seen an ever increasing decay, and has now become a stagnant mess.
"With the formation of United Andhra Pradesh in 1953, the state government was in a hurry to "develop" the city. Between 1956 and 1970, industrialization was viewed as development, and smoke from a factory's chimney was seen as a good sign," Purushotham adds.
He also says that there was competitiveness between the states during this time, especially in the public sector.
"During this time, Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals (IDPL) was allotted to Hyderabad, the state decided to locate it in the catchment area of Hussain Sagar. I wouldn't say it was intentional as the government was blissfully unaware of the thousands of litres of effluents that the factory would release and the environmental ramifications of that move," Purushotham says.
Over time, the effluents, naturally flowed into Kukatpally Nala, which in turn joined rivulets and in turn joined the Musi river.
However, the lake could absorb this one industry and the pollution wasn't visible - but as urbanization picked up, so did the industrial and household sewage.
(Toxic froth overflows from one of the nalas during the recent rains in the city. Image: Twitter/Sakshi Khanna)
In fact, it was only after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, that a Parliamentary committee was constituted to study the impact of urbanization on the environment.
"From the time of state formation, until the Water (prevention and control of pollution) act of 1974 and the subsequent formation of the Pollution Control Board (PCB), the state kept constructing blissfully around the lake," Purushotham adds.
Hyderabad first started expanding after 1956, like any other city as facilities like healthcare, education grew and employment opportunities attracted more people towards it.
There was a lull during the first agitation for a separate Telangana in 1969, but urbanization continued. However, it was during the 1990s that the city started rapid expansion, owing to its IT boom.
"The urban planners were not even conscious and aware of the water bodies. For a long time, none of the planners including government bodies, even considered water bodies in their planning. Only after environmentalists in Hyderabad filed cases and PILs to protect water bodies, High Court orders followed and the municipal authorities began surveying water bodies," Purushotham says.
However, the death knell, according to him, came when the Andhra Pradesh government built the necklace road, which was then touted as a great infrastructural achievement.
"The Necklace road became the noose. The once mighty Hussain Sagar, was reduced to flowing within the boundaries of a road. Even the land on the other side was given away in the name of gardens, food courts and theatres," he says.
"It is ironical that a propagator of 'ahimsa', Gautum Buddha's statue now stands a mute spectator to all the violence against the environment in the lake today," Purushotham adds.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons/Tripod Stories)
At the brink of death
At present, the lake currently has four nalas through which effluents are released into the water body - the Kukatpally nala, Balkapur nala, Banjara nala and the Picket nala.
According to reports, a 30-million-litres-per-day (MLD) sewage treatment plant (STP) has been installed at the Balkapur nala, and a 20 MLD STP for treating waste coming from the Kukatpally and Picket nalas.
However, the pollution of the lake is only on the rise.
(Water being released from the Lake after it filled up due to the recent rains)
In 2015, Dr Babu Rao Kalapala, Retired Chief Scientist, Indian institute of Chemical Technology, compared the pollution of the lake between 2005 and 2015, and declared that "pollution control measures taken to protect Hussain Sagar Lake have failed completely in the last 10 years."
This week, the Telangana state Pollution Control Board (TSPCB), stated that the pollution level at the lake had gone up at least six times after the immersion of Durga idols recently, and Ganesh idols earlier.
The Times of India added that GHMC officials cleared 2,000 metric tonnes of puja material from the lakeâ€™s surroundings, while it quoted a PCB scientist stating that the biochemical oxygen demand levels of the lake stood at 18 mgl, compared to the permissible limit of 3 mgl.
In a four-hour review meeting attended by Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development KT Rama Rao in July, GHMC Mayor B Rammohan and Commissioner B Janardhan Reddy had stated that the cleaning up of Hussain Sagar lake had been given top priority.
It remains top priority only on paper.
Speaking to The News Minute, N Raveendhar, a senior scientist with the PCB said, "We are trying to ensure that no more industrial effluents are dumped in the lake. A lot of these industries, especially around the Kukatpally nala are releasing effluents in the night, which we could not be aware of. Therefore, at the cost of Rs 35 lakh, we purchased equipment that lets us track the inlet in real-time and gives us live updates every five minutes."
"Because of this, we can monitor the water quality entering the nala throughout the day. We have fixed similar equipment at the outlet near Tank Bund road," he adds.
Raveendhar also stated that the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) and GHMC have diverted a few nalas into the Musi river.
"The water pollution has gone down, and is lower this year than last year. We are taking steps to control the release of effluents that might further pollute the lake," he adds.
He advises against cleaning the Hussain Sagar's sediments, as the existing pollutants at the bottom of the Lake bed would become an administrative nightmare.
"We would disturb the entire ecology of the place and we would have to find another place to dump the years of effluents that have piled up. I think we should focus on ensuring that it doesn't get further polluted first," he says.
But not all hope is lost just yet.
(Image: Nitin B)
Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL), a citizen initiative has been trying to revive and protect lakes for the past six years, with the Hussain Sagar always on their priority list.
The organization has filed various petitions over the years, to ensure that successive state governments take steps to improve the quality of the lake.
There are also other NGOs like 'Forum For A Better Hyderabad', which ensure that constant public pressure remains on the state's government to take moves that are environmental friendly.
In August 2005, the Supreme Court constituted a three-member committee headed by R Rajamani to look into all the aspects of the Hussain Sagar lake.
Besides, submitting a report on the extent of encroachments around the lake, the committee had also declared that "Lakes perform several ecological services. Lakes, even in urban areas, have values in terms of natural beauty, conservation, micro-climate moderation, flood control etc."
"They have heritage, cultural, social and aesthetic values. The conservation of urban lakes confers benefits on not only local communities but also all citizens who are either nature lovers or need sustenance for their good health with clean water and air," the report added.
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