Hyderabad: Nearly 48 hours after the rains stopped, several parts of Hyderabad city were still reeling under flood-water and thousands of people were trying to recover from the unprecedented disaster.
As the death toll in extremely heavy rains across Telangana reached 50, most of them in Hyderabad, the state government has put the losses at Rs 50 billion (Rs 50,000 crore) across various sectors including power, roads and buildings.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao after a high level review meeting with ministers and officials urged the Central government to release Rs 13 billion as immediate relief. He also announced an exgratia of Rs half a million to the next of every deceased person in rain related mishaps.
Officials briefing the Chief Minister about the extent of damages said that standing crops over an area over 735,000 acres came under water and it may lead to a loss of Rs 20 billion.
Floodwater remains stagnant in several colonies across Hyderabad and surrounding areas and the residents were facing a difficult time in getting clean drinking water and food supplies and power could not be restored in several colonies.
Meanwhile several glaring questions have come up regarding the causes of the worst disaster in several decades.
While the unprecedented and extreme rainfall of more than 32 cms was being blamed for the reason behind the crumbling of the civic infrastructure, the predominant view both in public and official circles was that several decades of apathy and negligence of the administration towards plundering of ecological system of Hyderabad and encroachment on innumerable lakes was the real reason for the disaster.
Experts recall that the same reason was also behind a similar disastrous flood in August 2000 after which then state government had announced a grandiose plan to remove all the encroachments over major drains. However the massive floods affecting hundreds of colonies clearly show that two decades have past without administration learning any lesson or implementing several ideas proposed by experts to prevent recurring of floods.
Hyderabad was once the city of almost 1,000 lakhs built in a systematic manner first during Qutub Shahi regime 400 years ago and then subsequently during the Asifjahi eras. But today according to independent assessment less than 400 of those lakes exists and remaining were swallowed by the nexus of politicians, officials and builders to build unauthorized colonies.
The strangulation of even the few surviving lakes with closing down of the inlets and outlets due to illegal constructions has contributed a lot to the latest disaster.
Dozens of lakes including Umda Sagar, Palle Cheruvu, Gurram Cheruvu and Jalapally lake overflew as there was no proper outlet to release the water. It was the breach in one such lake that washed away the crucial Hyderabad-Shamshabad road badly hitting the traffic towards the airport and Bangalore.
Gurram Cheruvu in Balapur had threatened a very large area of the old city and Palle Cheruvu breached leading to flood in Bandalaguda area. Shah Hatam tank also overflew and the lack of proper drain system led to the flooding of Toli Chowki and neighbouring areas.
There were dozens of such examples how the encroachment of lakes and tanks led to flood water entering into residential areas, drowning the ground floor of buildings and rendering thousands of families homeless.
Experts blame the failure of government in preventing the illegal constructions in and around lakes. Lubna Sarwath who leads “Save Our Urban Lakes campaign in Hyderabad demanded special tribunals to deal with cases of such encroachments. We need a mechanism like lake tribunals for quick disposal of the cases of encroachments as the civil courts take a lot of time”.
Hyderabad and surrounding areas of Ranga Reddy and Medchal districts have seen a rapid expansion and growth turning once beautiful and verdant areas into concrete jungle and destruction of the unique interconnected lake system. With no sign of any serious action and will power on part of the government, another similar disaster might be just around the corner.