Hyderabad: Recent incessant rains in Hyderabad brought water mismanagement to the foreground among its citizens and politicians. Water management of a city is the most complex and expensive affair. Complex, because it is a multi-stakeholder problem and multi-stakeholder solution.

Common citizens are not aware of the laws and regulations that protect water bodies and do not consider the water management of an area before buying a property. They only look at the project amenities, real estate prices, or location to influence their buying decision.

Similarly, builders and land grabbers only look at maximizing their profit and fuel their greed of earning big money at the cost of lakes and naalas. They grab lake land that doesn't belong to them. On top of it, rights to undertake agriculture activities on lake beds during dry seasons is assumed to be the right to own, sell and develop the land.

City Town Planning Departments of local municipalities don't have enough motivation and personal benefit to deny approvals for projects and buildings that don't follow the law of the land. The politicians are hand in glove with builders and land grabbers to convert any illegal structure to a legal structure at the time of building permission approval stage, or several decades later through Land Regularization Schemes.

In any which way we look, there seems to be no real motivation by the stakeholders of the society to uphold the constitutional duties of preserving biodiversity and water bodies of the land. Additionally, the common man doesn't always have enough power nor the means or time to take up lake conservation initiatives, and fears threat to life from the vested stakeholders.

Let's illustrate this situation with an example. Nallagandla Lake is a beautiful rain fed lake covering roughly 90 acres in the Western suburb of Hyderabad. It is surrounded by high rise apartments, and so far, it appears there is no encroachment of the lake (yet). The FTL boundary has been clearly identified by HMDA and the State Government.

It has more than one inflow naalas and at least one known outflow naala that goes all the way up-to Sangareddy district.

Today, the outflow naala is at risk of being lost to real estate greed. There are few real estate projects that are built exactly on top of the outflow naala.

Here you see the original naala path on the left (as of 2015) and the current status of that area in the right satellite image. The builder wishes to construct the project on the naala, and is forcing it to detour it towards the right side.

However, water has its own mind and will. In the pic below, see the area where the flooding of October 2020. It clearly depicts the original flow of the water which was covered by the builder. You can also observe the apartment which is already constructed may also be encroaching a bit on the naala by constructing a tennis court. The lesson learnt here is that it's hard to make water flow the way we humans want it to flow. Instead, we must leave the original path and try to build around it.

A water body through a society or an apartment complex is an asset, not a liability. It can be beautifully integrated with the landscape and be a social and cultural place. This builder could have done a better job by incorporating this naala in his master plan than re-routing it.

Similarly, at the entrance of the lake, some landowners have constructed a boundary wall on their land which happens to fall right on the naala's path. The October floods destroyed the boundary wall of one of those lands.

In the heavy rains of September 2016 also this area was flooded. However, the real estate players didn't give two hoots.

Not to be left behind, there is a new plan by the government to build a new "link" road on the lake bund. This will not only destroy the scenic beauty of the lake and the beautiful home of exotic migrant birds but will also destroy the peace of the surrounding residential area. In addition to that, it will encourage more such encroachments because of increased accessibility and commercial activities.

Unless these outflow naalas are protected from encroachments (legal or illegal), Nallagandla and its residents downstream face the great risk of urban floods in similar extreme rainfall events in the future.

Srikanth Peddibhotla

Srikanth Peddibhotla is the founder of HappiCities Labs, an urban research, design & engineering startup. He is passionate about future greenfield micro-cities of India centred around sustainability & happiness.

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