Is it the end?
Untrammeled urbanisation has put paid to many water bodies in Hyderabad. The latest victims are the Osmansagar and Himayatsagar reservoirs. These human-made lakes have supplied the bulk of the city's water needs for nearly eight decades. In 2002, Hyderabad received about 45 million gallons of water each day from Himayatsagar and Osmansagar. But last year, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board could not draw any water from them. Osmansagar dried up by February, while waters lasted in Himayatsagar only till June. In fact if a study by Venkateshwar Rao and Srinivas Rao -- researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Technology University (jntu) -- is anything to go by, these lakes could die out in the next forty years or so.
Blame it on the airport The Himayatsagar might dry up for good much before that. An international airport is proposed in Shamshabad on the outskirts of the city. This will take up about 810 hectares of catchment area of the reservoir. In November 2003, the Andhra Pradesh High court dismissed a public interest petition challenging the proposed airport. The court delivered its verdict after a public hearing, which can be best described as eyewash. Environmental groups were not even allowed to present their arguments.
It is a pity that despite several laws and rules to protect water bodies, they are always at the receiving end of 'development' projects. Access to clean drinking water has been recognised as part of the 'right to life' under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In 1996, the Andhra Pradesh government prohibited residential colonies, industries, hotels or any polluting establishment within the catchment areas of the two reservoirs. But the High Court refused to treat the airport on par with a polluting establishment. This despite the fact that there are several studies that prove that air traffic causes substantial pollution.
The court verdict was also a volte face from its interim order of April 2003 directing the proponents "not to undertake the actual construction activity." The court also ignored the jntu study which concluded that the future of Himayatsagar is threatened by the filling up of its catchment area.
Poor record of pollution board The Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (appcb) has given a go-ahead to the airport, albeit with a list of exhaustive conditions. But we must remember that the past record of the appcb, in ensuring compliance of rules, has been very poor. It has no powers to impose penalties on violators.
Moreover, the powerful industry lobby and proponents of big ventures have always found ways to ensure that rules remain only on paper. Otherwise, so many water bodies in and around Hyderabad would not have been so heavily polluted. Himayatsagar and Osmansagar might well suffer the fate of Hussainsagar and Mir Alam tank -- two water bodies that supplied drinking water to Hyderabad's residents for decades. Today their water is totally unfit for domestic use, thanks to urbanisation, corruption and the blinkered vision of our policy-makers.
Environmentalists are not against the airport per se, but demand that it be situated outside the catchment area of Himayatsagar. The water security of lakhs of Hyderabad's residents is being compromised for the sake of a small number of air travellers and big contractors. At a time when big commercial ventures are promoted in the water sector, destruction of natural water bodies only enhances business interests at the cost of water security of common people.
C Ramachandraiah is a fellow at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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