The cable suspension bridge across Durgam Cheruvu will be the city’s first ‘hanging bridge’ but activists say that it comes at great ecological cost.

A shrinking lake damaged rock formations All for a hanging bridge to ease Hyd trafficAll images: Nitin B
news Environment Thursday, April 12, 2018 - 16:24

It has been close to a year since Telangana Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister KT Rama Rao laid the foundation stone for a cable suspension bridge across Durgam Cheruvu lake in Hyderabad.

Aiming to ease traffic congestion, the bridge is to be constructed from the main entrance of the Ambedkar Open University on Jubilee Hills Road No 45 to the junction near Inorbit Mall.

While it would have the distinction of being Hyderabad’s first ‘hanging bridge’, activists say that it also comes at great ecological cost.

Works have been going on in full swing but activists voice concern over the indiscriminate dumping of mud at the boundaries of the already shrinking Durgam Cheruvu lake.

When TNM visited the spot, a large area along the edge of the lake had been taken over by dumping debris and heavy construction vehicles were traversing the mud road. Even as this reporter watched, a large machine continued to push debris into the water on the other side of the lake, to make space for the road.

Construction activity is expected to go on for at least another year, as the project is expected to be completed only by February 2019.

The Durgam Cheruvu was once one of the largest lakes in the Cyberabad area. However, today it is a stinking mess, covered with water hyacinth and stagnating sewage.

Environmental impact

Activist Lubna Sarwath from Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL) says, “The lake is already shrunk, as more than 60 acres has been encroached in the past, and now it is shrinking further.”

The activist says that a committee was constituted in 2016, consisting of members of the Legislative Assembly, to submit a report on the lake’s health, but the report is yet to come out.

“Also, earlier a case had been filed, following which the Hyderabad High Court had ordered that renovation and construction work at the lake must be stopped. Legally speaking, the lake is sub judice,” Lubna says.

She also argues that several environmental laws have been flouted.

“There are two major bodies from which permission must be acquired for construction of the cable bridge. One is the WALTA authority under the Water, Land and Tree Act, which rarely meets and discusses such issues. The second is the Lake Protection Committee under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA). The Telangana government has rendered both these bodies dysfunctional,” Lubna alleges.

As per the WALTA Act, environmentalists and representatives of civil society are also supposed to be invited for meetings, but Lubna alleges that the state government has failed to do so fearing citizen backlash. 

“The GHMC is just going ahead with the project and the lake is suffering because of the mud being dumped to erect pillars and all the rocks being excavated. The project is not only against the environment, but also against the interests of the general public,” she said.

Damage to rock formations

Another important ecological loss as a result of the project are the large rock formations that were once on the list of heritage rocks of the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA), now known as the HMDA.

Speaking to TNM, Secretary for Society to Save Rocks, Frauke Quader, said, “A lot of shore rocks were destroyed over the last few decades due to construction, and the bridge itself will go through a lot of rocks.

“It is always an environmental loss as rocks not only have aesthetic value, but also help with water percolation into the ground, which asphalt and cement will not do. The groundwater in the area will only decline with each passing year,” she adds.

In fact, the Society to Save Rocks had held its foundational meeting on the edge of the lake around 20 years ago, and down the line even protested against the laying of pipes through the body of the lake, but to no avail.

“The pipe around the lake diverted sewage from Hitec City and a lot of debris was also dumped to make the road. Many people have also cut down rocks and built houses on steep slopes on one side, which is technically on the lake,” Frauke says. 

“While water affects people much more directly, they feel that rocks are just dead things which can be cut down for construction and building. It is because of this that we are focusing on increasing awareness and taking people on ‘rock walks’ every month, to show them how beautiful rocks are and how they can be used for recreation,” she adds.

Hyderabad is also unique as it has several rock formations within the city, due to the fact that it is situated on the Deccan plateau.

“A lot of it depends on the government and what land they sell or give away. Since flat land is mostly owned by farmers, a lot of rocky land in the city’s Gachibowli area was given away to private corporations, just to make money,” Frauke says.

However, the activist is still slightly hopeful, as KTR also laid the foundation stone for the Durgam Cheruvu Development project, which plans to rejuvenate the lake.

Recently, under Mission Kakatiya, the Telangana government sanctioned Rs 41.46 crore for the development of Durgam Cheruvu. Under the project, officials said that there was a plan to build an amphitheatre without disturbing the natural rock formations near the lake.

“There are still a lot of rocky areas on one side and the government has promised to beautify the surroundings and turn it into a rock park. That would be a good idea once the bridge is constructed, so that we at least have something left,” she adds hopefully.

You can read our earlier story below on how the originally 150-acre Durgam Cheruvu, built somewhere between 1518 and 1687 by the Qutb Shahi kings to take care of the water needs of the residents of Golconda Fort, was gradually encroached.

 

Read: Durgam Cheruvu: A timeline of how Hyderabad destroyed its 'secret lake'

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