Activists say it would be wiser to relook at the functioning of the Lake Protection Committee, which is tasked with removing encroachments and protecting lakes.

Lake Protection Committee is tasked with removing encroachments from and protecting lakes. Image For Representation
news Encroachment Saturday, November 21, 2020 - 13:19

Even as Hyderabad gears up for municipal polls a month after floods that left several parts of the city inundated, revenue officials have been quietly going about identifying illegal structures that have come up over the years on lakebeds. The municipal administration had announced plans to demolish these structures after making amendments to municipal Acts. However, those who have been working on the conservation of Hyderabad lakes say the efforts are a mere eyewash.

It was on Monday that Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, KT Rama Rao, announced that the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) Act will be amended to make it easier for officials to take action against illegal constructions. The Minister had said the illegal structures that have come up on nalas, buffer zones and full tank level of water bodies in the city will be demolished without any prior notice to the encroachers.

The October rains had several of the 2,857 lakes within Greater Hyderabad limits breaching Full Tank Levels (FTLs). The flooding inundated colonies built illegally on the lakebeds, because the construction over the nalas (which link the lakes to one another) slowed the receding of the flood water. The announcement to amend municipal laws to allow demolition of illegal structures came in the wake of several localities in the city still being inundated, a month after the floods. Revenue department officials have already begun the process of identifying the encroachers. Activists say instead of taking up these efforts, the state should relook at the functioning of the Lake Protection Committee (LPC) formed in 2010 under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) to oversee lakes.

Speaking to TNM, the Bandlaguda Tehsildar says, “We’ve identified 800 to 900 structures around Gurram Cheruvu lake alone that are illegal and will be demolished,” adding, “that’s roughly 2,000 people.” The officer, however, has no information on when the demolitions will begin nor does he have any clue of where the 2,000 odd people will be rehabilitated. “We haven’t received any instructions on that,” he says.

Earlier in October, the Balapur bund of the Gurram Cheruvu lake collapsed, inundating Hafiz Baba Nagar Colony impacting close to a lakh people who lived there. The locals had blamed encroachments over a nala blocking the free flow of water for the breach of the bund.

What is the LPC’s role?

The LPC is tasked with removing encroachments from and protecting lakes. The committee is chaired by the GHMC Commissioner and includes the HMDA, Irrigation and Revenue departments, and the district administration. Though initially created for the Greater Hyderabad region, this committee now oversees the protection of lakes across the state.

The functions of the committee include listing all lakes along with their FTL in HMDA areas, lake maintenance, and removing existing encroachments in the FTL and foreshore areas. The committee is also tasked with demarcating the lakes up to the FTL by raising bunds along the FTL and arranging for a watch to preventing future encroachments and misuse of the lake. The survey of the lakes in the state is being carried out by a private consultant for close to a decade. The on-ground FTL marking is carried out by the Irrigation department. The demarcation of the FTL is done by building a walkway along the perimeter of the lake, with approval from the GHMC and the HMDA.

Lubna Sarwath, co-convener of Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL), says the entire process of marking FTLs and building walkways inside the FTL land is flawed. “Several of the FTL demarcations are flawed, the map will show one FTL and on-ground there will be a different line,” the activist says.

Unscientific approach

Lubna recalls that at the Bandlaguda lake there is a colony presently inside the lakebed. “More than half of the 50 acres of the lake has now been encroached upon, there are high rises also on the lakebed. But the FTL map doesn’t show all this, the map can be viewed on the HMDA website and compared with on the ground,” she says, while adding that the state’s approach to building walkways inside the lake to denote FTL is unscientific.

At Gurram Cheruvu where the bund broke, Irrigation officials built a walkway inside the lake with the sanction of the GHMC and the HMDA. The engineer in charge of repairing the broken bund says it is being done to prevent further encroachment. “We built the walkway inside the lake along the boundary of a property under dispute. Some locals have gone to court claiming patta land inside the lake itself. Our plan is to build a walkway and prevent further encroachments,” the official says.

The walkway will connect Hafiz baba Nagar to the Barkas area. “When the court case is over, the department can change the walkway and bring the parcel of the lake under dispute back into the lakebed,” the official reasons.

Even after a decade of functioning later, the LPC has been ineffective, their own minutes of meetings suggests. For example, in 2017 the number of lakes surveyed but notified by the Irrigation and Revenue departments stood at 3,132 lakes with only 165 being notified the year before. The figures stood the same in 2018. Irrigation and Revenue departments citied mismatch of FTL lines in maps with both departments, even in 2019, the issue remains unresolved. The LPC has not met so far this year, despite the floods.

“The existing acts are more than sufficient to solve the encroachment problem,” says Lubna, who says that though the Telangana government ratified the Water, Land and Trees (WALTA) Act, 2002, it is yet to be enforced.

Telangana is yet to create a WALTA Authority, despite reminders by the Telangana High Court. The authority is tasked with notifying water bodies like lakes, village ponds and minor irrigation tanks along with nalas as heritage bodies and conservation areas; take measures to permanently demarcate boundaries; and evict and prevent encroachment.

The authority must comprise ministers, legislators, mandal level officials along with activists working in the field of conservation and environment. “As per the act, we need to have a WALTA Authority to oversee lakes with required public participation. These authorities have to be set up at the mandal level. But the public representatives don’t want to sit with activists, so they put the WALTA Authority under the rug and instead created the LPC which does not have any powers,” Lubna adds.

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