Decades of public and government apathy has killed one of the largest lakes in Secunderabad.

From bird paradise to frothing mess Tracing the history of Secunderabads RK Puram lakeImages: Nitin B
news Environment Saturday, January 06, 2018 - 16:08

The stench as one walks under the RK Puram bridge in Secunderabad is more than just unbearable -- it’s putrid and makes one want to throw up.

Stagnant faecal matter can be seen near a giant pool of water, where an assortment of solid and liquid waste has gathered to such an extent, that people cover their faces while walking past it.

Poverty is prevalent in the area, as a large slum is situated near the giant pool of stinking water, which is an inlet of the RK Puram Lake. 

Once one of the largest lakes in Secunderabad, which played host to several migratory birds, the waterbody has turned into a stinking, frothing cesspool following decades of public and government apathy. 

History

There is no established date for when the RK Puram lake was dug up, but its roots can be traced back to 1798 when the 'subsidiary alliance' was proposed by then British Governor-General in India, Lord Wellesley.

As part of the alliance, the East India Company offered protection to the rulers of princely states, in exchange for money or land. 

Nizam Sikander Jah, the third ruler from the Asaf Jahi dynasty, was said to be one of the first princely states to sign the pact.

At this time, Secunderabad was a small taluk, described as a low flat ridge, near a village north of the Hussain Sagar Lake. It was here that the British built the cantonment area. 

Speaking to TNM, Murali Chemuturi, a writer and long-time resident of the area, narrates, “Mudfort, which is now just the name of an area, was the first place where the East India Company built its garrison. Over time, the garrison expanded, and soon it had spread all the way up to Bolaram.”

By the early 1800s, the Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (EME), which is presently the Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (MCEME), had been set up. 

Though it is now a populated area in the city, this was the time that people first settled in then Neredmet village.  

“The engineers and electricians who worked there needed two main services. First, they had dry toilets and needed someone for manual scavenging, and secondly, they needed milk and food. For the first, they hired some Scheduled Caste people from Tamil Nadu and for the second purpose, they hired Yadavs (a cattle-breeding caste), from Uttar Pradesh,” Murali says. 

“The two groups were housed nearby, and while Neredmet became the village, RK Puram was the hamlet where the SC persons stayed,” he adds.

All three of these groups needed water, so the RK Puram Lake was commissioned by the Nizam and dug up in the mid-1800s, occupying a space of around 100 acres.

After the sepoy mutiny in 1857, the British continued to expand aggressively, and the area's population began to grow. 

The lake remained a major source of drinking water and largely clean, until the late 1960s, when the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) was established. 

“There was no shortage of water, which is why the old houses in RK Puram have no well or borewell. In 1965, Sainik Nagar was the first colony to be allotted. Despite this, the lake remained clean, as the colony remained downstream of the lake,” says Murali.

“After ECIL came up, the politicians of the time laid a road right through the lake, to create a shortcut. In 1976, the lake flooded the road, following which it was raised by 5 feet by the gram panchayat with the help of mud and stones,” he adds.

According to locals, this was when a large portion of the lake was killed, as the water that was cut off from the rest of the lake, was eventually dumped with debris and flattened.

“However, it was only in the mid-80s that things started going downhill, as several colonies like GK Colony, Sri Colony, Bank Colony and Bhagat Singh Nagar were built upstream, and untreated sewage started flowing directly into the lake,” Murali says.

(Sewage entering the lake from Bank Colony)

It was at this time, that three massive pipes were laid to carry the sewage, and storm water drains were also built directly from the houses, into the lake.

For the next three decades, even till today, a large amount of sewage continues to enter the lake on a daily basis.

It was in the late 90s, that construction work began for a flyover at RK Puram, to overpass the MMTS Railway Station below, and ease traffic congestion. 

Since then apathy for the stench below the flyover has only grown.

The pollution

When the lake frothed in June last year, officials of the Telangana State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB) had taken samples of the water, to determine the main cause of pollution in the lake.

Results of the test accessed by TNM, showed that the Dissolved Oxygen levels were low, at 1.8 mg/l (Inlet) and 1.2 mg/l (Outlet), while the PCB mandates a minimum level of 4 mg/l for all water bodies.

The preliminary results also showed that Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) levels, Ammonical Nitrogen, Nitrate, Phosphate and surfactant levels were high in the water, with the PCB saying that this was responsible for 'Eutrophication' (growth of water plants) and froth formation.

However, besides the sewage, there was one other major problem. The PCB results showed that there was a high amount of organic content in the water, which meant that someone was dumping animal remains in the area.

(Frothing is an everyday affair near the lake's outlet)

A nexus 

Historically, there were many pork shops in the RK Puram basti, that have been allegedly dumping pig waste into the water for decades. 

According to sources in the area, the families belong to Katika or Khatik caste, and are descendants of families that migrated from Uttar Pradesh over a century ago. 

Their caste profession is selling meat, and many have been running slaughterhouses in the area for at least half a century.

According to locals, indiscriminate dumping of animal waste was much higher, and only decreased after authorities put up a fence around the lake.  

"There is only one shop under the flyover and one shop at Neredmet. However, a large amount of slaughtering takes place here, before the meat is shifted and sold to outlets across the city," says Suresh*, a local who has been documenting alleged violations. 

Suresh was allegedly thrashed in front of the Rythu Bazaar (farmers’ market) in October last year, after he had been collecting photos and videos of alleged illegal dumping of pig waste into the lake.

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is well aware of the slaughtering in the area, as it has imposed hefty fines and closure notices on different occasions, but to no avail.

(Scenes from an earlier raid)

The police are aware of the violations as well, as the Neredmet police arrested one person from an illegal piggery in the area in July, which was involved in extracting oil from pig waste.

The police said that the residual matter of the pigs was being dumped into the lake.

"The local goons who attacked me, also enjoy the political support of one TRS leader, which is why there is no political will to take action against them. Is the price that one pays, for trying to do good?" Suresh asks. 

No solution in sight?

In July last year, as the lake continued to froth, the United Federation of Residents Welfare Associations organised a meeting at Devinagar, with officials from the government, environmentalists and citizens. 

Prominent local environmentalists addressed the gathering, urging officials to not merely treat the symptom of frothing, but to also look at the cause of sewage flowing into the lake.

At the time, Dr Lubna Sarwath, one of the founding members of Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL), suggested that there was a dire need to 'inventorise the solid and liquid waste following into the lake'.

Residents have suggested using large 'soak pits', which involve large pits that absorb the silt and sediments, and only let relatively pure water pass through. 

"It is a simple procedure that is cost efficient as well. It will clean up the lake in a matter of months, compared to the PCB's approach," Murali says.

On the other hand, the PCB says that setting up a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is the best option. 

"If the two inlets are not very far off, then they can be connected and a common STP can be set up. If we pump clean water into the lake, the water body will clean itself out by flushing the pollutants," Senior PCB scientist Veeranna told TNM.

Despite repeated attempts, K Sridevi, the GHMC Corporator for Neredmet Division could not be contacted.

 

 

*Name changed.

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