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Greater Hyderabad Kills Musi & livelihoods మే 4, 2007

Posted by Telangana Media in Telangana Articles.
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MURKY MUSI  Greater Hyderabad tag for city spells greater troubles for the already dirty and dying Musi, says Roli Srivastava  

On a dry and hot afternoon in a leafy corner of Osmania University, professor K Muthyam Reddy slips into a nostalgic mood reliving his childhood in Pedagudem village where the walk home from school was the most awaited moment of the day, when he would jump into the river with his friends, play in the sparkling water to beat the heat, fish and even drink that river water. The river was Musi and today, he says, he cannot imagine dipping his finger into it.  

A few dozen campaigns, some multi-crore promises and innumerable academic studies later the story of the Musi river stands the way it has for many years now – dirty and dying. Experts now say that the river’s future appears grimmer with the city expanding to become Greater Hyderabad. 

Muthyam Reddy, who has conducted studies on Musi pollution, says that Musi is Hyderabad’s “natural wealth”, one that the city may lose with its rapid development. “The ground and surface water in villages like mine are already contaminated,” Reddy says, his interest in the subject largely due to the childhood he had.

Apart from faster growth on the banks of the Musi river with the city’s expansion, there are also fears of the river being reclaimed to enable ‘development’ in Greater Hyderabad. “This would reduce the river’s bed width. Also, with faster development on the river’s banks, Musi will only deteriorate further,” says Veda Kumar, president of Forum for Better Hyderabad who has anchored Musi conservation studies. He says the government’s plan such as having two corridors along the Musi connecting the city’s east (towards Uppal) with its west (towards Attapur) would be damaging to the river as it would attract a lot of traffic. The remnants of serenity associated with the river, he believes would be lost with this corridor. Environmentalists say that the river that gave birth to Hyderabad and turned into its dump yard for untreated effluents and sewage is now bleating to be conserved. Hyderabadis need to fear the river’s deterioration with studies indicating the river’s pollution affecting crop yields and their quality. “The paddy we grow would appear healthy but at the time of harvesting the crops would be rotten near the roots. The yield has dropped considerably,” says M Jagan, resident of Valigonda mandal in Nalgonda district. He adds that the high fluorine content in the ground water and the polluted Musi have resulted in families buying drinking water.There are as many as 30 villages like Pedagudem on the Musi river bank that are faced with a severe drinking water crisis, says Muthyam Reddy. Some of them, he says, would come under Greater Hyderabad. While studies on villages such as Pedagudem and the most polluted village in the Telangana region, Edulabad (that would not come under Greater Hyderabad but would border it) note that each village spends close to Rs 45 to Rs 50 lakh every year to buy drinking water, the same holds true for other villages as well that are situated on the banks of Musi.Are we equipped to cope with such waterless villages? What solutions do we have to offer to these people who are forced to buy water,” he says, wondering whether this expansion would compound the water problem faced both in the villages and the city. Also, would the city’s expansion lead to further pollution of an already much polluted river?

This is Old City resident Narsimha’s main concern. Not an environmentalist but a small time businessman, 30-year-old Narsimha cherishes the first 16 years of his life that he spent in his village, Lingarajapalli in Valigonda mandal of Nalgonda district. At the village on a weekend visit from the city, he laments how the river that flows behind his house has added to his village’s problems.

On the face of it, Lingarajapalli is a picture perfect village with a river flowing by its side and lush green bushes and trees offering a picturesque backdrop. But the scenery is clearly an optical illusion as a closer look reveals corrosion on the riverside, the water quality grimy and its colour red, thanks to untreated industrial chemical effluents.“People here complain of joint pains. While they buy drinking water, they cook using the river water. The river water is also being used for bathing and washing clothes. Cases of white spots on the skin (fluorosis) are also on the rise,” Narsimha says. He believes that Hyderabad’s expansion would only compound the river’s pollution and in turn aggravate the water and health problems they are faced with. In this village too, people buy drinking water at Rs 12 for 20 litres, which lasts for just about a day for one family. With farming as their main occupation, a considerable chunk of the family income goes into buying water. Obviously, they feel the pinch of buying water more here than their urban water starved counterparts not only because their spending capacity is less but also because they had a free source of water in the form of a river not too long ago.“Villages downstream need an alternative drinking water facility, a solution to their water problem,” says R V Ramana Murthy, professor with Hyderabad Central University and expert on Musi pollution subject. Murthy believes that the government has not “planned” the city’s expansion with basic facilities such as drinking water and sewerage not considered before taking the decision to brand it greater.However, he says that there is an advantage to the river’s pollution – the real estate prices here would not soar as long as the river remains polluted, one reason why the villagers are only seeking a solution only to their drinking water problem.

Watered-down PLANS

The government has undertaken several projects to save the Musi or to beautify it. Some projects have been flush with funds and yet the reality of this dirty river remains unchanged.

In 1997, the government planned a Nandavanam project between Chaderghat and Purana Pul. This was protested by organisations such as Chatri and Musi Sanrakshana Samiti and members of Forum for Better Hyderabad. The project was shelved.

A while later, the then Hyderabad collector embarked on a Rs 7 crore project wherein a walled channel was constructed in the centre of Musi. Environmentalists then had said that the walls would be washed away soon which came true.

In the year 2000, Musi figured in the list of five rivers for which the Union government sanctioned funds for conservation. Half the conservation cost was to be borne by the state government. “This has not been undertaken in any manner,” says Veda Kumar, according to whom the state’s share of funding came to about Rs 700 crore.

In 2005, the government came up with a Save Musi programme. A Rs 905 crore package for Musi’s beautification to be spent in two phases was also announced.As part of the programme, work on a heritage precinct from Chaderghat to Purana Pul (midstream) is currently going on and an ecological precinct is planned from Purana Pul to Attapur (upstream). A metro precinct is planned from Chaderghat to Nagole (downstream), but is faced with resistance from environmentalists who believe that the land will be used for real estate business.

The government had proposed to build a Rs 349 crore mega treatment facility comprising a primary, secondary and tertiary treatment plants, which was scheduled to be completed by the year 2007 (according to a report on Musi River Pollution in 2003). Work on this is underway.

One section of people hopeful of Musi’s conservation are government officials. Apart from taking up several projects (see box), some of them criticised for lack of vision and planning by environmentalists, there are other plans too. Sewage treatment plants will be upgraded and a new sewage treatment plant will be set up in Nagole village in Uppal to ensure greater inflows into the river, according to Jayesh Ranjan, vice-chairman Hyderabad Urban Development Authority, which now covers almost all upstream villages of Musi. Experts have repeatedly said that the sewage treatment plant at Amberpet remains ineffective with 95 per cent of the sewage remains untreated.

Given that the river is clean when it enters Hyderabad but the dirtiest and most toxic when it leaves the city, an upgraded and a new plant could help reduce the woes of downstream villages.

Until then, the beauty of Musi will be best preserved in the memories of people who enjoyed the river once. 

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