news Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 05:30

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) which came into power on the separate statehood sentiment with claims to safeguard its rich culture, is slowly causing ripples of dissatisfaction among a section of the public with plans to construct modern structures at the cost of Hyderabad's heritage buildings. 

The government plans to build skyscrapers near and around the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad. Many experts agree that the move is not a smart one, with a string of buildings having high cultural significance being replaced.

Hussain Sagar was built in 1562, across a tributary of the Musi river by Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah. The lake was named after Hussain Shah Wali, the person who helped design it. It is fed by canals from the Musi river and was the main source of water supply to Hyderabad before Himayat Sagar and Osman Sagar were built.

(An artist's sketch of the proposed skyscraper's around hussain sagar)

“There are many issues with the proposed plan by the chief minister,” says Professor C. Ramachandraiah, who has authored many publications that deal with the urbanisation of cities.“The main question that has to be asked, is if the buildings are actually needed and if needed, who will be housed here? Hyderabad is already crumbling in terms of population per square km and the government must be prepared for the impact of these structures. Traffic is going to multiply and there is also the issue of waste management (solid and liquid) and water requirements.”

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has been making claims of turning Hyderabad and Telangana into an urban hub with world-class facilities to all the citizens. Though the notion is noble, some seem to slightly disagree on the path taken by the CM.

M Kodandaram, Chairman of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-JAC) - which played an active role in the formation of the state - says, “For a long time now, Hyderabad has viewed development as inviting various corporate and commercial establishments to set shop in the city so that more revenue is generated. But now that we have IT-driven hubs like Madhapur and Gachibowli, emphasis must be on the poorer sections of society to generate better civic employment and provide more amenities for them.”

The chief minister held a detailed review meeting in November on the proposal of constructing skyscrapers with 60 to 100 floors and also examined some of the tower models.  He said that construction could take place in the vacant land at DBR Mills, Jala Vihar, Sanjeevaiah Park, opposite Marriott Hotel and even between Necklace Road and the railway tracks nearby. He instructed officials to come up with details pertaining to the vacant lands and submit a report.

But Ramachandraiah says taking over the vacant land might be a mistake.

“All the areas identified besides a few buildings, are mostly open spaces. There is a need for preserving open spaces in the city right now, more than there is a need for skyscrapers,” he says. “KCR has also linked this skyscraper project with the cleaning of the Hussain Sagar Lake, which will be done by emptying all the water and cleaning the sludge. However, there is no proper plan. The toxic sludge at the bottom of the lake may be really deep because the lake has not been cleaned since it was built in 1562. Where the sludge should be disposed is another problem.”

The Telangana government has decided to empty the lake this summer, in order to clear the contaminated muck and had sanctioned Rs 100 crore for this purpose. The chief minister had attributed the lake's pollution to sewage entering it from different areas and the immersion of Ganesh and Durga idols.

A report in the Times of India, says that this plan could result in the lake shrinking by around 50 acres. The lake has already been reduced to 1/5th its original size to 1,110 acres from 5,000 acres.

Critics such as Ramachandraiah ask if KCR’s vision for the city should be at the expense of the city’s rich 400-year history. But environmentalists also argue that there is more at stake here than just heritage.

“Hussain Sagar was always seen as a revenue pot by the government and more commercial establishments coming up around the lake are only going to decrease the quality of life,” says Arun Krishnamurthy, the founder of the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI).

KCR has also drawn flak from various opposition parties, who claim that the chief minister thrives on adding more concrete and increasing the population density per square kilometer rather than practicing a dispersed city model with good connectivity.

Arun, whose NGO takes part in a number of conservation efforts adds, “When the people do not give importance to the issue, the government also does not care. It’s very sad that people are willing to breathe processed, air conditioned oxygen in malls but not natural air from parks.”