Telangana state Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s belief in Vaastu is going to cost the state and the people of the twin cities big. KCR believes that having an administrative building facing a water body (Hussainsagar) is against Vaastu. Vaastu Shastra is “the science of the place where you live or work, office or factory”. It’s not just KCR; everybody here who is a somebody, or for the present a nobody, has come under the thrall of Vaastu Shastra. Vaastu is also described by believers as the “science which if properly applied gives the owner of the building access to Vaastu Shakti which in turn is the energy generated by the interaction of five elements — earth, air, fire, water and open space”. How this energy is generated, the Vaastu high priests tell us, is beyond the “understanding of our five sense organs”.
People in the IT age, it seems, have found a superstition to match their hungry materialism. All outcomes, good or bad, it is now increasingly believed, are results of Vaastu. KCR is convinced that the present Secretariat has bad Vaastu and wants out of it. But how does it help Hyderabad by making Secunderabad its victim? Greater Hyderabad is the 24th largest city in the world. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad have 5.3 million people living in an area of 172 km².
By 2030, the twin cities will be home, cheek by jowl, to 10.15 million. That means in just another 15 years all our urban woes are likely to at least double. More people, more wealth will mean more motor vehicles, more commuting, more congestion, more effluents and more chaos. The new urban agglomeration under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) sprawls across 923 sq. km, with a population of 9.23 million, making it India’s second largest city by area after New Delhi. Yet the twin cities are among the more congested and air polluted habitations in the world, because almost two-thirds of the GHMC population is concentrated within them.
India’s most polluted city, using the composite PES scale, is Kanpur with a score of 182.98, but Hyderabad is not very far behind with a score of 143.36. Compare that to Shenzhen, China’s biggest export production centre, which has a score of 149.75. The world’s most built-up, and among its largest, cities, Shanghai, has a score of 155.86. Traffic congestion on road networks occurs as use increases, and is characterised by slower speeds, longer trip times, and increased vehicular queuing. As demand approaches the capacity of a road (or of the intersections along the road), extreme traffic congestion sets in. When vehicles are slowed or stopped by traffic congestion and jams, they spew forth huge concentrations of a devil’s brew of air pollution. Interestingly, Hyderabad is not among India’s top car owning cities, but yet its air quality is among the worst.
Clearly the solution to Hyderabad’s increasing pollution and traffic congestion is to spread out the city more evenly. But this will not be helped by the Chief Minister’s recently expressed intention of building a new Secretariat at Secunderabad’s Bison Polo Ground, and a high-rise city centre around the excessively polluted Hussainsagar. By doing this he will be heaping more misery on the residents of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
This is particularly ironic because there is so much open land within GHMC limits. It is now well-known that urbanisation is the biggest driver of economic growth. But unplanned urbanisation is a recipe for chaos and economic decline. KCR should expand urbanisation but without inflicting a burden on existing urbanised areas. Now, if I were advising the Chief Minister, I would tell him to move the Secretariat to a more open and well-located area under the GHMC, but outside the twin cities. Here, the new Telangana state can relocate its administrative capital with modern, spacious and spread-out offices and residential areas, like Gandhinagar is to Ahmedabad. Or New Raipur is to Raipur. Or Putrajaya is to Kuala Lumpur.