The story of a river: Hyderabad’s once mighty Musi has been reduced to a giant sewer

Due to indiscriminate urbanisation, the river has become a receptacle for untreated domestic and industrial waste.
The story of a river: Hyderabad’s once mighty Musi has been reduced to a giant sewer
The story of a river: Hyderabad’s once mighty Musi has been reduced to a giant sewer

In September 1908, the Musi deluge is said to have killed 15,000 people in Hyderabad and made an equal number homeless. Today however, the Musi river that meanders through Hyderabad is itself dying a slow, death, contaminating its surroundings just as the residents and authorities of Hyderabad have contaminated it.

Rising in the Ananthagiri hill in Ranga Reddy district, the Musi flows into the Krishna at Vedapally in Nalgonda district. But as it flows through Hyderabad, it turns into a giant sewer, filled with garbage and industrial waste from the city. Years of neglect have earned it the notoriety of being named one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Thanks to civic failure to address this, the Musi has kept up this dubious distinction for the third consecutive year in a row.  

Due to indiscriminate urbanisation and lack of planning, the river has become a receptacle for all the untreated domestic and industrial waste water in the city. This point was forcefully made in the PIL filed with High Court in Hyderabad some months ago by the city-based Forum for Good Governance. Ironically, it was the 1908 deluge that spurred the then Nizam into introducing urban planning in Hyderabad.

(The Musi river flows along Hyderabad's Salarjung Museum. Image: Wikimedia Comons/Mohammed Mubashir)

In the PIL, the Forum has pointed out that the government has made little progress in cleaning up the river. This, despite the Musi being part of the Central Government’s National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) for the past six years. The Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) has also separately prepared two projects for Musi’s conservation at an estimated cost of Rs 580 crore and Rs 150 crore.

But it appears that money and policy measures aren’t enough to clean up the industrial and sewage Musi.

“The chemical waste which enters the river from industries seeps into the ground and contaminates ground water. The same water is consumed by people and adversely affects their health,” says Jasveen, co-convener of civic group Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL). The PIL points out that the same water is used even to grow food grains and vegetables which are consumed by city residents.

The common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) which have been set up to treat effluents from industries are not able to do so efficiently with the chemicals ending up in the river.

(Smoke fumes from the river bed of Musi at the outskirts of the city. Image: SOUL)

In March, Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development KT Rama Rao said that 51 nalas on the 30km stretch of Musi which runs through Greater Hyderabad emit sewage directly into the river. Only 605 MLD of the 1,250 MLD sewage generated is treated. The rest reaches the river untreated. 

M Padmanabha Reddy, the Secretary of FGC says that the Musi remains polluted because the government tried to implement the interception and diversion method: Water which comes into the Musi would be intercepted at check dams, diverted to Amberpet area where sewerage treatment plants would remove the waste before directing the water back into the river channel.

“It barely worked for a few days before fizzling out,” Reddy said.

Giving another example of failed clean-up efforts, Padmanabha said that the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) had invested Rs 50 crore in the construction of a rubber dam near the Hyderabad HC to separate waste from water. Accumulated water at the rubber dam created a stink in the locality, and also became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The functioning of the dam was stopped after residents of the area complained,” he says.

“The biggest threat to Musi today is the waste from the Hussain Sagar Lake - which is also being cleaned - being diverted into the river. Water from the Musi flows into fields in low-lying areas, contaminating vegetables," he says.

2012 study on the Impact of the pollution on health and economic conditions of downstream villages found that the pollution gave rise to several major problems including a high incidence of diseases such as arthritis, diarrheic, skin allergies, stomach pain, malaria, food poisoning, eye diseases, paediatric problems and jaundices.

Despite this, the Telangana government is yet to come up with a proper plan for Musi's conservation. Perhaps it fails to realise, that the waters of the Musi are tied to the people of Hyderabad. In any case, the government officials hardly have to brave the once mighty river’s flood waters to meet a lover, as Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah did, before he became the fifth ruler of Golconda. He named the city after her twice. He renamed Bhagmati’s village Chichlam as Bhaganagar. When there was a shortage of water in Golconda, he shifted the capital to Bhaganagar. By this time, she had changed her name to Hyder Mahal after embracing Islam. And so, Quli Qutub renamed the city again: Hyderabad, where the Musi flows.

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