Y Satyanarayana

Whenever the heavens open up, as they did on Monday, for instance, the citizens of Hyderabad come face to face with the stark reality that one big downpour can knock the stuffing out of our civic system. Roads get inundated, some cave in and something as simple as getting home becomes a challenge to thousands of people. Millions of the capital’s inhabitants have one single question, which has never been answered by the authorities with any sense of clarity—“why should tax-paying citizens suffer”?

This situation repeats itself over and over again. For decades now, there hasn’t been a system in place to address this seasonal, and now thanks to global warming, unseasonal, problem. One would have expected the GHMC to wake up ages ago, but one is not sure when that is likely to happen. The media’s unrelenting focus on the issue over the past many years, now supplemented by aggressive coverage by television channels, seems to have had very little effect on our civic authorities.

The principal reason for their callousness and indifference bordering on disdain is the unstinted support of the politicians in power that they have always enjoyed. That must change now. Officials need to get their act together, as the people’s patience on this issue, is running thin. The ruling TRS government has a pro-active minister in KTR, who holds the portfolio of Municipal Administration. While this government has inherited an age-old problem, it needs to be resolved fast, through meticulous planning and efficient execution.

For years, both civic officials and politicians alike have got away with murder, as they say. Accidents, deaths, injuries—nothing has ever goaded them into any kind of action worth mentioning. The same cycle gets repeated—paper-thin roads, which get washed away at the slight hint of a deluge, are laid and the result is quite predictable. The politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has always been far too powerful to be countered by the sharp criticism of a vigilant media or the protests of activists and the intelligentsia.

The city has grown in the most lop-sided manner possible, thanks to the generosity of the municipal officials in granting permissions at will, not to speak of irregular or illegal construction which has gone on unchecked. Politicians then bring in “building regularisation” schemes and all is well again. The state coffers might swell to some extent temporarily, but at what cost? The result is the legalization of brazen transgression of civic laws. Sprawling slums with little or no sanitation make matters worse. Large crowded settlements have mushroomed all over, thanks to the patronage of politicians who like to play godfather and civic officials who conveniently wink at illegal constructions taking place right under their nose. Most of the lakes and tanks, which once dotted Hyderabad, have disappeared

Does the government have a fix? Is there even a contingency plan in place, drawn up by the GHMC? One really doesn’t know. Over the years, hundreds, if not thousands of lives, must have been lost, crores of tax-payers’ money wasted on roads which are barely functional most of the time. What about precious man-hours lost in unending traffic snarls? Do civic officials care? So far, one hasn’t seen any evidence which suggests they do. Meanwhile, citizens, with characteristic patience and endurance, drudge on, from one bad day on the road to another. They don’t really know whether their online petitions will yield any results or whether media coverage will have any serious impact. One reaches the inevitable conclusion that it is only the threat of judicial intervention which would nudge authorities into drawing up a concrete action plan. That remains, well and truly, our last hope.