Activists say that while the collectors may clean the lake's surface, they do not effectively solve the problem of pollution in Hyderabad's water bodies.

A floating trash collector. Image: HMDA
news Environment Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 10:45

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is going ahead with its plan to acquire six floating trash collectors at a cost of Rs 10 crore, to clean the surface of lakes under its jurisdiction. 

Floating trash collectors are devices that travel through the periphery of the lake, collecting water hyacinths, plastic and other waste on the surface of the lake.

The GHMC is following in the footsteps of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA), which already owns such garbage collectors and is also planning to acquire more.

The decision by the municipal body — to use modern technologies to clean the lakes — was widely reported when Principal Secretary of Municipal Administration and Urban Development Arvind Kumar visited the Durgam Cheruvu, a freshwater lake in Hyderabad's IT sector, along with GHMC Additional Commissioner (Lakes) and Serilingampally Zonal Commissioner Hari Chandana and a team of officials, earlier this month.

However, experts have globally stated that such floating trash collectors do not serve the purpose. In September 2018, Boyan Slat, a Dutch entrepreneur, had rolled out a 2,000-foot floating trash collector into the Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Many experts raised concerns if the boom would suffer structural damage and trap marine animals. In the first week of January 2019, the device was rolled back after it suffered a breakdown due to metal fatigue. 

Activists in the city also argue that the floating trash collectors and drones are a burden on the exchequer and do not really solve the problem of pollution in Hyderabad's water bodies. This is because, while the floating trash collectors and drones are able to control pollution on the surface, the water body continues to be polluted underneath.

‘Prevention first, then clean-up’ 

Experts point out that deploying devices to clean the lake superficially will remain ineffective as long as concrete measures to prevent pollution in the first place are not in place.

“The authorities are not thinking comprehensively and efficiently. Most lakes should not be getting any trash in the first place. There are supposed to be filters near the inlets itself. But if trash still flows in, it is the failure of the filters," Narasimha Reddy, a policy expert, tells TNM.

"Secondly, it is also a general failure of the waste disposal system in Hyderabad that people are throwing garbage near a lake. The authorities are only looking at capital-intensive technological solutions," he adds.

Activists say that the solution to cleaning up the city's lakes is in controlling the sewage that enters the waterbodies from both residential and commercial establishments.

Speaking to TNM, Lubna Sarwath, an activist with the Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL), notes, "The pollution is not being handled in an effective manner. Even after cleaning the water, weeds return in three months because the real pollutants haven't been stopped.”

She adds that the lake has to be locally remediated. “Necessary provisions must be made for pure rain water to flow into the lake. But this has been thwarted as officials have concretised the entire periphery of the lake," she said.

Incidentally, municipal officials concur with the criticisms and concerns raised by the activists. “The FTCs can only clear the surface of the lake and collect water hyacinth, plastic, weeds and other floating material. Pollution can be prevented only when the sewerage network is effective and impermeable. If not, the sewage, which is let into the open streams or nalas, will return to the lakes," HMDA chief engineer, BLN Reddy told TNM.

Even Arvind Kumar has acknowledged this reality.

Despite the awareness, both the GHMC and HMDA are going ahead with their plan.

"At present, we have five floating trash collectors. Two more are yet to be delivered but we are expecting them by February. We have deployed them at different lakes, but mainly at Hussain Sagar and Durgam Cheruvu," BLN Reddy said.

The sewerage master plan, which is being prepared by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB), is still in the works, with no definitive timeline. "It is an ambitious project. We will cover the entire city and its suburbs, which is an area as big as New Delhi. We cannot put a timeline on it yet," a source in the HMWSSB said.