Infrastructure
Road cave-ins, water-logged streets – the same situation repeats year after year.
Image: PTI

Last week, several residents of Hyderabad heaved a sigh of relief as respite from the scorching heat came in the form of pre-monsoon showers, bringing the temperature down across the city.

However, what they didn't estimate was that they would also wake up to massive traffic jams as several parts of the city were inundated after receiving rainfall of less than 10cm. 

Entire arterial stretches in the city came to a standstill, making it a commuting nightmare for those who were on their way to work.

Many also said that the situation was no different from last year, when the city experienced heavy rainfall and large parts of it were inundated.  

One thing was clear. Not much had changed in one year, despite the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) promising that it would not let a repeat of last year occur.

However, road cave-ins have returned, and water logged streets are now a common sight across the city.  

With the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting that monsoon will arrive at the city later this week, it is clear that authorities have a daunting task ahead. 

Better urban planning

The general response by activists and officials in the administration when asked about why Hyderabad's roads get submerged after the lightest shower, is a lack of storm water drains.

More than a decade ago, the Kirloskar committee was formed to study why the city witnesses a catastrophe every monsoon. 

One of the main reasons it stated, was that existing storm water drains were constructed during the Nizam era for a population of five lakh while the GHMC oversaw a population of almost 80 lakh, spread out over 625sq km, compared to 54 sqkm during the Nizam's rule.

However, some argue that the solution may lie in better urban planning.

"This is a question asked every monsoon, and a lack of storm water drains is the reason that the administration wants to present. It is of course a problem that the capacity of these drains is not adequate, but our system has been in a bad shape for a long time," says Dr Anant Maringanti, the Executive Director of the Hyderabad Urban Lab.

"The bigger issue in Hyderabad is that we have built up drainage areas, without paying attention to the fact that the ground is not flat. This is a city of ups and downs, and drainage water is very chaotic, with water not knowing where it’s supposed to go," he adds.  

Anant says that there are engineering solutions for this problem, but they are not generally followed.

Citing the example of areas like Hi-Tech City, where residential complexes often get flooded, Anant says, "The drainage design has to be done very carefully, and people have to pay attention to the terrain. We are doing things we shouldn't be doing, and trying to find quick solutions, when we require long term solutions."

Predicting that intense local precipitation would continue to rise, he adds, "We are going to see more of this heavy rain that occurs for around 10 minutes, resulting in localised floods, where only certain areas of the city drown, unless we make some changes."

In fact, HUL had also put up a video on the issue last year.

Quality of contract work

Others point fingers at the municipal bodies and the bureaucratic process involved.

"One of the main problems that metropolitan cities face in general, is that there is no quality work being done. This is mainly because there is no commitment on the part of the urban authorities," says Dr Purushottam Reddy, a noted environmentalist in the city.

Purushottam states that most municipalities have contractors registered with them, and hand out contracts to the same people every year.

"Municipal Commissioners and the state governments have assumed the power of allocating work. As a result, the same contractors get the same road every year, in the name of maintenance, and the final result is for everyone to see," he says. 

He also accuses the state government of leaving the municipal body powerless, as several senior posts are filed by the state. 

"It should be autonomous," he contends, adding, "Hyderabad has 150 corporators, but you hardly see them taking up public issues. On the other hand, the state government decides when it should hold the municipal polls, instead of the State Election Commission, which is another big problem."

(Image: Facebook/Hyderabad Traffic Police)

Desilting and building violations

Other experts feel that the solution involves something already mandatory under municipal rules. 

"It is mandated that desilting should take place once every six months or at least before the monsoon. In all the drainages and storm water drains in the city, a lot of silt gets deposited over the months, and that needs to be removed," says Dr L H Rao, a civil engineer. 

"There is a good budget allocated for the issue too, but they don't do it most of the times. Even if they do it, they're not very efficient," he adds.

Another major problem according to Rao, is violations by individual house owners and small construction companies.

"Most of these people just dump construction material on the side of the road, and whatever debris is remaining after the work is completed, gets washed off in the rain. All this sand and cement goes and chokes these drains, which result in water stagnating on the street," he says.

"To solve this, they're constantly opening other drains, which results in a cascading effect. The municipality should consider implementing better technology so that the roads itself can absorb water and let it percolate to the ground, thereby recharging the water table," he adds.

Rao also suggests the implementation of a third-party inspection system, so that no building will get the required permission unless it meets the required standards for disposing its debris. 

Meanwhile, the GHMC continues to focus on storm water drains and has reportedly proposed a Rs 230 crore project for improving the bottleneck stretches covering 47 such drains.

As far as liability is concerned, Purushottam claims that liability is limited when something goes wrong, and a lack of transparency only adds to the woes.  

Additionally, he also says that citizens are to be blamed.

"People have to graduate to becoming responsible citizens who question the government. Only then, these issues will be fixed. It's the same story in several cities in the state like Warangal and Khammam.  The gross indifference of citizens and political parties has led to this situation," he says.