Disappearing lakes and politics of corruption

Communities have as much part to play in protecting natural resources as the people in power. This case of a disappearing lake proves it.

Mallampet is a village in Quthbullapur Mandal. It is located about 5–6 km from the municipal boundaries of the Hyderabad city. Like many other villages, Mallampet too has witnessed the disappearance of its lakes, but not all of them are from natural causes. A close study of the political nexus has revealed the interesting case of lake encroachment.

In 2006, the then Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO) decided to allot around 300 pattas to the poor people who were living illegally in the village. These pattas were around 50 square feet each and near the Outer Ring Road. Once the distribution started in 2009, however, the MRO realised that there was not enough land to distribute in that area. Hence, the MRO, in consultation with the panchayat, decided to give away 160 pattas in the other part of the village. 

The land they selected for the purpose belonged to a lake area, Kottha Cheruvu. During the distribution, the lake was dry. Moreover, although the government had records of the lake's existence, the exact size of the lake was not recorded in any official report. Thus the village and the block level officers together distributed around 8000 square feet land in that dried lake. Some poor people constructed their house and started living there while some locals sold their lands to outsiders, mostly from UP and Bihar, and left the village.

In 2010, when the new MRO took charge, he noticed the discrepancies as people living in the two extremes of the village, near ORR and in the Kottha Cheruvu area, had the same survey number. By then, a public high school had also come up in the lake area. Sensing legal problems, the villagers went to the MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) and asked for a solution. The MLA, as a political person, grabbed the opportunity to score political brownies and asked the MRO to resolve the issue. At the MRO’s instruction, within five days, the panchayat changed the survey numbers and validated the distribution.

There was no more problem until September 2016 when incessant rains for several weeks filled the lake. On top of that, storm water from the villas (colony of bungalows) of the adjacent small town, Bachupally, also started pouring in, as there was no water storage tank. Those villas were constructed on a land, which was initially a water storage tank. Construction of the villas also blocked the passage of water. Now, in order to get rid of the excess rainwater, people in the villas channeled the water towards the Kottha Cheruvu which inundated the lake along with the houses built under the lake area. While the village sarpanch refused to take any action regarding this, some villagers knew the local Member of Legislative Council (MLC) and complained directly to him. The MLC instructed the MRO to take some action and the MRO, after inspecting the situation, decided to build a water passage to direct the water to another lake, Chinnagi Cheruvu, which was already waterlogged. Thus, water got diverted from one place to another.

The above case presents not just the dirty politics of those in power but also the shortsightedness of a community which only had its immediate interest in mind. It is not always the responsibility of the authorities to protect our common property resources; the community too should have the will to forego short-term gains for long-term sustainability.

 

This is one from a series of blogs written by the researchers of SaciWATERs after their work on a two-and-a-half-year-long project titled ‘Ensuring Water Security in Metropolitan Hyderabad: A study of Hydrological Settings and Informal Institutional Dynamics’ to understand the contribution of informal markets to the overall water security of metropolitan Hyderabad. 

 

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