Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hussainsagar - The lake that was

The lake that was

Chandana Chakrabarti Dec 8, 2012, 07.19AM IST
The Hyderabad of my childhood was so uneventful that a trip to Husainsagar was the highest form of entertainment , a memory one ruminated on for months. In the sixties, the raw beauty of a much larger lake enticed one and all. Tankbund road was narrow, pavements non-existent , and traffic so thin that a snail crossing the road would not run the risk of being run over. The lower tank bund road was a narrow dirt track lining a green expanse of paddy fields . Hotel Marriott stands where a Coca Cola bottling plant, a regular target for school excursions, stood. Connecting the upper and lower Tankbund roads were narrow stone steps on the wall of the bund. We used these steps to go Bharat Sevashram Sangha on the lower road for a community meal at Kali puja on Diwali.
For the non-adventurous , the lake was approachable from the Secunderabad Sailing Club or the Hyderabad Boat Club on the opposite end. A bus ride on the top deck of a doubledecker bus through Tankbund was enticing . Racing records were broken and set on Tankbund road.
A small kebaband-paratha shop opposite the lakeside and a restaurant at the level of water on the Tankbund road which had an open shelter as a roof-top , were favourite haunts. Bongs had their fi ll of fish from the closeby stall of the fisheries department. In the late seventies , water hyacinth aggressively claimed the lake, making it look like a vast green expanse. The battle against it was not easy and became almost a full-time research obsession with RRLabs.
Every Durga puja, on Dashami, Durga was bid farewell in the lake by half-a-dozen Bengali clubs who used Hyderabad Boat Club premises for immersion . More than faith, it was our only chance to get on an open lorry, shout, sing, dance and be boisterous. The unique sight of the army puja's amphibian truck, which moved on land and water attracted crowds and made us feel proud. Ganesh festival till the end of seventies was virtually unknown in Hyderabad. Since then with every passing year Ganesh immersion has only grown larger and more aggressive , contributing to the lead, mercury and cadmium levels of the lake, besides the silt. Bongs are, perhaps, to be blamed for showing the way.
Through the eighties and nineties, dramatic changes swept the lake's environs . Tankbund road got broadened, beautified and statuefied ! The Buddha Purnima Project got underway, the Necklace road came up, and the monolith Buddha was transported prostrate on a huge vehicle with over a hundred wheels, only to fall in the lake on its way to the rock of Gibralter , killing several people.
But there were other ugly things happening along with the beautifi cation . Patancheru industrial estate's effluents and the city's sewage began to get free access to the lake. The clear water of the lake went so turbid that Buddha's rescue was a nightmare. Stench around the lake became insufferable. Governor Kumudben Joshi as also Governor Kishan Kant would lament in personal conversation about how the stench obliterated the joy of an enticing view from their residence. Then came a time when eating the lake's fi sh could endanger one's health.
Although Husainsagar's beautifi cation has enraptured everyone, the lake has been dying a slow death. Moreover , the banks of Husainsagar has become the best destination for the lastjourney of our politicians. And who knows, the fate of Masab tank might befall Husainsagar in a few decades, and then the transition from a park to a mall will be only a matter of real estatestrategy!
Time and again, independent organisations have run extensive experiments to study the water quality of the Hussainsagar. The results, each time, have thrown up startling facts about the deteriorating condition of the city's most important water body. Excerpts from some of those studies:
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute: 1997-98

This water quality assessment was conducted by NEERI on the request of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board. The study revealed a very low, and in some locations zero, presence of dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Hussainsagar thereby indicating the fragile lake water quality and the effect of organic pollution. The study concluded that the lake was in an advanced stage of 'Eutrophication' , which means that there was an increased plant growth in the water body. According to experts this accelerated growth is either due to natural fertilizing agents washed from the soil or dumping of chemical fertilizers. Eutrophication may also occur due to drainage of sewage, industrial wastes or detergents into a body of water.
Ecology & Environment Group, National Geophysical Research Institute: 2007-08
The paper was prepared by members of NGRI and points to the risk posed to the aquatic environment of Hussainsagar, thanks to the presence of heavy metals in the water, especially lead. Tracing the pollution 'history' of the lake, the study points out how the water body initially did absorb the pollution impact. But once its natural carrying capacity reached its limits, adverse effects of the pollution started manifesting around 1970 in the form of deteriorating water quality, fowl smell, wild growth of macrophytes and breeding of mosquitoes. By 1992, according to the paper, the lake was reduced to a cesspool.
As part of a comprehensive report on the water situation in India, 'Excreta Matters' , the centre also studied the situation of water bodies in Hyderabad. It concluded that the Hussainsagar, once a primary source of drinking water of the city, had shrunk significantly over the years and was posed with a serious threat from pollution and encroachment in this catchment area.

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