Soul Network: What happened to the Hyderabad city lakes?
By Syed Akbar
The water bodies in Hyderabad are dying fast thanks to lack of proper scientific conservation measures. Weak regulations, monitoring and enforcement laws have put the lakes of Hyderabad under immense ecological stress, argues the Save Our Urban Lakes (Soul) Network.
The SOUL has come out with some startling facts and figures about the fast dying lakes of Hyderabad and calls upon people and authorities concerned alike to conserve the water bodies. The Soul gave a presentation at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which is holding its 11th Conference of Parties in Hyderabad.
"Hyderabad, once known as a City of lakes, may soon be water stressed. Water bodies of the city are shrinking in their size, degrading, and many-a-times “disappearing” entirely with serious consequences for local bio diversity and water security of the city – particularly the ordinary citizens who cannot access “expensive” water from private companies and water tanker mafia," the SOUL points out,
While the official estimate of lakes in the City was more than 1000 - a recent estimate puts this number around 500. However reliable estimate of how many of the 500 lakes still exist is not available. As a result, negative consequences are evident in the continuing intensity of water crisis experienced by the citizens, which is only going to aggravate in the coming years. Below key issues that confront the city of lakes are noted.
Referring to encroachments, the SOUL Network says due to weak regulations, monitoring, enforcement of laws, water bodies are available for encroachment by the elite and powerful. This often has support of governance agencies. For example, several orders were passed legalizing conversion of a water body for construction. Land “generated”-- a decline in the number of lakes has added for other uses. The land “generated” by the vanishing lakes has been put to multiple uses, including, building real estate, recreational spaces such as parks, burial ground and so on. This process of “landisation” very often enjoys official sanction.
Emphasing the need to make lakes free of pollution, it said domestic sewerage, Industrial pollutants, and unregulated growth is causing pollution of both surface and groundwater. The outburst of urbanisation without commensurate development of drainage/sewerage on the one hand, and drinking water supplies on the other are compounding the problem. While the demand for water consumption shortfall is filled by tapping groundwater.
"The waste water that is generated finds it way in to the surface water bodies – rivers, nallas, and lakes. Most lakes have been converted into cesspools that contain not only pathogens of domestic sewerage, but also deadly cocktail of carcinogen elements carried through industrial effluents. STPs, and CETP handle negligible amount of liquid waste and that too in ineffectively. Untreated wastewater (UWW) is extensively used for agriculture around the Musi river. This practice allows the pollutants to enter the food chain".
Fresh, clean and pure rainwater combines with the polluted surface water bodies to increase the quantity of polluted water. This accentuates the quantity of polluted water that requires treatment. This inability to separate the storm water and the drainage water reduces the availability of fresh water on the one hand. At the same time it increases the quantity of polluted water with consequent requirements for additional treatment.
Water bodies in the city were scattered in the landscape in order to receive the storm water drainage from surrounding areas. Growing urbanization has led to obstructions in the path of water trying to reach the lowest point, i.e. the water body. This mechanism of annual rejuvenation of the water body has been disrupted and is partly responsible for drying of the lakes.
Here are some issues raised by SOUL Network, Hyderabad
The water bodies scattered across the city acted as natural bowls for holding water in case of excessive rainfall. Shrinkage of the water holding capacity due to “landisation” (noted above) has led to increased incidence of urban floods that are caused even during a short heavy downpour. Additionally, while urban floods were formerly around the banks of the rivers, destruction of the water bodies has led to disbursed urban floods in most low lying areas of the city. Incidence of urban flooding has become frequent and localized.
A critical function of a water body during hot weather conditions is to recharge the groundwater, lower surrounding temperatures, and provide buffer of stock of water. Destruction of water bodies has intensified water scarcity. The situation is further aggravated by the pollution of the groundwater when polluted surface water seeps or permeates below thereby reducing availability of freshwater.
There is no legal recognition of the water surface in the laws of the state. What counts as legally valid in the court of law is the land underlying the water surface, which creates problems for legally safeguarding spread of water surface.
Multiple government departments impinge on different aspects of the lake. For example, the embankment, the water surface, the maintenance is handled by separate different departments. Legal control is exercised by a separate agency -- the revenue department.
This presents challenges for coordinated monitoring, regulating, maintenance, and accountability for the water body.
Piecemeal Approach to Hydrological Cycles
The planning of water sanitation of the city is entirely disconnected from the problematic of urban water bodies. Such a conceptualization abstracts from the natural hydrological cycles that emphasizes inherent connectivity between natural water availability and its utilization by the urban community. Planning, policy, and projects for urban water sanitation are executed independent of strategic approach to protection of water bodies.
Violation of Knowledge Commons
Wisdom accumulated by experiential learning on the water commons is being lost. The system of interconnected water bodies in the city was established with a conscious objective of arresting water at a local level, and to allow surplus water to drain in to the subsequent water body and so on -- ultimately reaching the river. Such an arrangement not only prevented floods at the local level, but also allowed water bodies to be recharged to their full capacity. The latter ensured water security during dry months. This was a novel mechanism to provide an insurance against both droughts and floods. The social wisdom that was manifested in these time tested measures is on its way to destruction.
Inequity and Privatization
The destruction of water bodies is accompanied by private appropriation of the public commons thereby excluding access to these public resources by the ordinary citizens.
Secondly, the excluded are more vulnerable to risks of water scarcity and urban floods.
Accountability and Apathy
Of the governance structure remains appalling. Violation of laws for protection of water bodies is seldom punished. Very often such violation aided, abetted, and condoned by the governing agencies. Finally, the governance agencies very often directly contribute to destruction of the water bodies.
Private Citizen Fallibility
Absence of a regulatory mechanism for protection of water bodies encourages / allows abuse a water body with impunity. Habituated individuals modes of public behavior are a serious impediment are major cause for damaging water bodies.
Lake Protection Committee (LPC) 2010
LPC is the most recent initiative at an institutional level established in 2010 under pressure from the judiciary. It had so far held 5-6 meetings with little consequence for ground level action. Many lakes highlighted as achievements of rehabilitation by the LPC are lying in a state of decay and degradation- such as Saroornagar lake and Safilguda lake.