Monsoon storm ravages Hyderabad but authorities refuse to learn from similar tragedies in the past

Published : October 16, 2020 16:03 IST

The Moosarmbagh bridge in Hyderabad is fully submerged under the Musi river on October 14.

Already reeling under the effects of the novel coronavirus, parts of Hyderabad, Telangana’s capital city, including the historic old city, were struck by a double whammy on October 14. In the pre-dawn hours of that fateful day, a monsoon storm of unprecedented magnitude, thanks to a deep monsoon depression over the west-central Bay of Bengal, awakened the largely parched and encroached river Musi. The river, also known as the Musinuru, which divides Hyderabad’s historic old city and the new city, seemed to come alive, flooding the city’s already overflowing tanks and lakes, especially the Hussain Sagar and Himayat Sagar. It submerged everything in its wake, submerging and marooning several localities. Roads, cars and bridges were washed away, trees and power lines uprooted, storm water drains breached and decimated. Atn least 24 people lost their lives in the furious floods The National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), the Army and the State police, besides numerous volunteers, swung into action to rescue people from the inundated areas.

The intensity of the rain can be gauged from the fact that while the monthly average rainfall of Hyderabad for October is 103.6 mm (according to Skymet), the 24-hour period starting from the morning of October 13, saw 192 mm of rain inundating the Begumpet Airport locality. During that same period, many other localities within the ambit of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) received rainfall in excess of 200 mm—Himayat Nagar 298.8 mm, Asif Nagar 208.8 mm, Bandlaguda 242 mm, Charminar 245 mm, Saidabad 211mm, and Secunderabad 132 mm.

There is still some ambiguity over whether this quantum of rain 24 hours is an all-time record for Hyderabad (the India Meteorological Department’s [IMD] weather monitoring station in Begumpet, which has data for all the previous years since 1891, records the rainfall of 241.5 mm on August 24, 2000 as the highest). It certainly was the highest in October, the previous highest recorded being on October 6, 1903, when Hyderabad received 117.1 mm rain. The figure also exceeded the 153.2 mm of rain on September 28, 1908, which resulted in the death thousands and a fourth of the city’s population was left homeless.

The latest downpour also badly affected Telangana’s other districts, breaching irrigation tanks and washing away crops. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao estimated the extent of damage at Rs.5,000 crore and dashed off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to release Rs.13.5 crore immediately for rehabilitation and relief works.

The State government had been warned of impending heavy rains by the IMD) officials attributing the heavy rainfall to a monsoon storm that never became a cyclone. People had been directed not to venture out unless it was absolutely necessary. Despite this, the suddenness and the intensity of the downpour flummoxed the authorities as they stood helpless, watching the destruction in the densely populated urban areas.

Much of the blame for the destruction of life and property should go to the authorities themselves. Rampant construction, much of it unauthorised and illegal, over lake beds, illegal settlements that have encroached on stormwater drains and nallas (drainage channels) and a lack of a disaster mitigation plan contributed to the destruction of this scale.

Over a hundred housing colonies including Macca Colony, Nadeem Colony, Neeraja Colony, Boduppal, Shankarnagar, Musinagar, Bandari Colony, Alinagar, Singareni Colony, Vambay Colony and Chakradhar Colony were the worst hi. At Bandlaguda, the Palle Cheruvu tank breached its banks, inundating colonies such as Al Jubair, Subhan Colony, Aljube Colony, Alnur Colony, Nimra Colony, and Krishnareddy Nagar, all in the Chandrayangutta area, with the water level rising in some areas to eight feet. And most, if not all, of these settlements have come up on land reclaimed from lake bed; they were either built for the poor or used by prospectors through encroacment.

A senior journalist, who first began reporting on Hyderabad nearly four decades ago, told Frontline that during every monsoon, colonies like Nadeem Colony were flooded, but nothing was ever done to prevent damage.

Water from the overflowing Hussain Sagar lake, the heart-shaped water body that separates Hyderabad from its twin city Secunderabad, flooded areas such as Gandhinagar, Ashok Nagar, Padma Colony, Nagamaiah Kunta, Nallakunta, Vidyanagar, Domalguda, Arundathi Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Aravindanagar, and Shivanandanagar.

As pointed out by the senior journalist, this was not the first time that Hyderabad and its surroundings were experiencing flooding. Similar flooding had occurred in August 2000 and the same issues had been flagged as exacerbating the situation. But little action has been forthcoming by way of either removing encroachments or redesigning the city’s antiquated sewerage and drainage systems. Commenting on the havoc, ecologists and urban planners said that much of the flooding occurred because of the mismanagement of wetlands and watersheds, which play a crucial role in absorbing excess rainfall, and mindless urbanisation.

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