The heavy rains that lashed Hyderabad in September are still fresh in the memories of many residents, who saw their neighbourhoods flooded and roads inundated.
Predictably, the Telangana government began a demolition spree, targeting encroachments along drains and 'nalas', which stop the flow of water.
Within four days, demolition squads of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), razed over 600 structures across the city.
(Image - GHMC)
Putting a brake on the demolition, the Hyderabad High Court on Friday directed the municipal authorities to issue notices to the occupiers before razing such structures.
The government has claimed that it has identified 28,000 such unauthorized constructions.
However, activists allege the GHMCâ€™s demolition drive is â€śclass-basedâ€ť. Most demolitions so far have been directed at soft targets - houses built along nalas by poorer sections of society.
"Nalas are unpleasant and dirty locations where polluted and pungent drainage flows. The encroachments that usually come up at these places are slums, filled with poor people who have been driven to inhabit these places. It is the worst place in the city to live in. How can you blame them for the floods?" asks Jasveen Jairath, a convenor for city-based Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL).
SOUL acknowledges that the encroachment of nalas and the consequent dumping of waste into them, do affect water drainage in the city. However, in terms of impact, Jasveen argues that encroachments of tank beds need to be cleared more urgently as they have larger draining capacity.
"Many private entities dump trucks full of mud on these lake beds and begin construction, with no regard for the law. These constructions are completely illegal. There are laws and checks but they are not implemented. The government also remains a mute spectator," Jasveen adds.
(Construction equipment at the Shah Hateem Talab near the Golconda Fort. Image: SOUL)
A report in the Deccan Chronicle states that while individuals had petitioned the HC to stop the demolition drive, a majority of those who approached the court were major encroachers such as N-Convention, Ramky estates, Satvika hotel and big realtors who have illegally occupied tanks across the city.
Thakur Rajkumar Singh, another activist who filed many public interest petitions over lake encroachments, told The Hindu that close to 12,500 illegal structures have come up in violation of GO 111, which protects the catchment area of Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar reservoirs.
(Lanco Hills in Manikonda allegedly encroached the Jagir Cheruvu, according to SOUL)
In April last year, Kunal Shankar, in an extensive piece for Frontline wrote:
â€śEncroachment on Hyderabadâ€™s water resources has been rampant in the past 15 years. Until about the 1980s, most of the lakes in and around the city were sources of drinking water, and a â€śbuffer zoneâ€ť around them used to be seasonal farmland...Rapid and unplanned urbanisation blocked the feeder channels to the lakes, which dried up gradually...Several residential and commercial establishments sprouted on these lands and sewage from them found their way into what remained of the waterbodies. Intermittent regularisation drives by the government eventually legalised these buildings.â€ť
One of the most public cases between the Telangana government and an encroacher occurred in July 2014.
The N-convention centre, a massive conference facility in Hyderabad's Hi-Tech city, was found to be built on lands encroaching the buffer zone and the Full Tank Level (FTL) of Tammidi Kunta, a lake.
The facility was owned by N3 Enterprises, a private company which was belonging to Telugu Actor Akkineni Nagarjuna and his family.
The High Court ordered the GHMC to act in accordance with the law and demolish the illegal part of the construction.
But, a later investigation in 2015, found that nothing was demolished either by the GHMC or the management except for a shed.
No lessons learnt?
Asked about the encroachments of lake beds, GHMC commissioner B Janardhan Reddy told the media that a survey of nalas and lake encroachments would soon begin and further demolitions would be taken up after the results of the survey.
However, activists are not convinced with his assurance.
Furthermore, reports now suggest that there are several areas in the city where lake beds have been encroached upon by the state's own departments.
(Electric poles on the Kamuni Cheruvu in Shamshabad, Image: SOUL)
Writing for the Times of India, Prabeerkumar Sikdar reports that the Telangana tourism department has encroached 24 acres of the Ramammakunta lake bed in Gachibowli, while the GHMC itself has violated the law by constructing a walking-cum-jogging track in Sakhi Cheruvu's buffer zone.
(The sewage treatment plant at Mir Alam tank. Image: SOUL)
The report adds that the AP Housing Corporation constructed a series of apartments inside the FTL of Chakali Cheruvu in Lingampally while the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSS) has reportedly encroached the lake bed of Lingamkunta, in Chandanagar, to construct a sewerage treatment plant (STP).