Deccan Chronicle had some news to cheer last week. It reported that the Telangana state government has abandoned its plan to build a secretariat at the Bison Polo Ground in Secunderabad. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the state government now is contemplating razing the existing clutch of ramshackle buildings at the secretariat and build a new secretariat there. It will only compound Hyderabad’s inner city congestion, air pollution and tax its existing overloaded infrastructure. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, were once beautiful cities, but not so any more. They are tattered at the edges and grimy. Traffic crawls and the air is medically not advisable to breathe.
The newer part, which is now called Cyberabad, is really a brand new city and there are parts which resemble Silicon Valley with marquee names like Microsoft, Oracle and Google blazing bold on the skyline. It has the University of Hyderabad, Indian School of Business and several other institutions. And how can you have any new city without malls? There are several of them and the city also has India’s first Ikea store. One can visit Cyberabad completely bypassing the twin cities. There is a six-lane expressway that zips you straight into the heart of Cyberabad from the airport and out of it without you knowing any better. Yes it has a heart, but the soul is still in the twin cities.
The elegant twin cities have lost their charm and grace in the last 60 years as successive CMs built their fortunes on real estate. The government at one time owned over 1,00,000 acres around the city. Now 79,000 acres are missing. The lakes have become giant septic tanks and the water sources are fast depleting and increasingly polluted. The first CM of Telangana state promised to revive the twin cities with a massive clean-up of the Hussainsagar, which has about seven-eight feet of industrial sludge at its bottom and in which now no known life-form except bacteria can thrive. The lake has a BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) value of 147, when the acceptable norm is 2.
Hyderabad is the 24th largest city in the world. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad have its 5.3 million people living in an area of 172 sq. km. 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 sprawls across 923 sq. km with a population of 9.23 million, making it India’s second largest city by area after New Delhi. It also dramatically reduces the average density of population to about 776 per sq. km. 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.
In terms of air pollution, Hyderabad is almost on par with Bengaluru and Bangkok. It has a Pollution Index (PI) of 79.98 as opposed to Bengaluru’s 80.56 and Bangkok’s 79.08. The PI is an estimation of the overall pollution in the city. The biggest weight is given to air pollution, then to water pollution/accessibility, the two main pollution factors. Clearly, the people of the three cities are living dangerously without the attendant economic and urban comfort levels. It should hence come as no surprise that Indians have 30 per cent lower lung function compared to Europeans.
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 huge concentrations of a devil’s brew of air pollution. Those who live in any of our big cities experience the “joys” of growth and progress every day in terms of the time taken to move and in the air we breathe. Interestingly, Hyderabad is not among the top India’s car-owning cities, yet its air quality is among its worst. This is quite a testimony to how congested the twin cities have become.
Clearly, the solution to Hyderabad’s increasing pollution and traffic congestion is to spread out the city more evenly. Yet the state government now intends to build a new secretariat where the old one stands. By doing this it will be heaping more misery into the lives of Hyderabad and Secunderabad residents. This will be particularly ironic when the GHMC has so much open land within it.
Now if I were advising the Chief Minister, I would advise him to pull down the ramshackle state secretariat and move it to a more open and well-located part under the GHMC. For instance, relocating it on the eastern side, say on the Hyderabad-Bhongir axis, would be a capital idea. Literally and figuratively. Here the new Telangana state can relocate its administrative capital with modern, spacious and spread-out office and residential areas, like Gandhinagar is to Ahmedabad. Or New Raipur is to Raipur. Or Putrajaya is to Kuala Lumpur. The Hyderabad-Bhongir axis is perfectly suitable because of the ready-availability of government-owned vacant land and the existing transport infrastructure. It lies on the main Secunderabad to Kazipet rail link that joins the twin cities to Delhi in the north, Kolkata in the east and Chennai in the south. The construction a new mega rail terminal here will reduce the pressure on the Secunderabad terminus and ease the congestion around it. The new Metro Rail line also begins at
Nagole and by extending it a bit more, the new capital area will be linked to the grid. The Outer Ring Road also gives it fast access to Shamshabad airport.
The expansion avenues for the twin cities are quite limited considering it is hemmed in the north by the cantonment and military facilities. Its expansion towards the west is limited both by the Begumpet airport which now sits plumb centre in Secunderabad and by the Sanatnagar and Balanagar industrial areas. The only direction the urban habitation can extend is between the east and south.
The under-used Begumpet airport was established in 1937 as a domestic and international terminal for the Nizam’s Deccan Airways. With the onset of WWII, the RAF began using this airfield to train pilots. After the war the airport reverted to complete civilian control. It was due to the generosity of the Hyderabad State government that in October 1951, the IAF was allowed to move its No. 1 Air Force Academy from Ambala to Begumpet.
Instead of seeking to repossess the Parade and Gymkhana Maidans from the ministry of defence, the state government will do well to repossess the land from the IAF and build a new financial and commercial centre for the twin cities here. In any case any new construction in Secunderabad’s only open space will be restricted in height because it comes in the Begumpet airport flight path.
The CM has shown himself to be capable of out-of-the-box thinking. He needs to put that rare quality among politicians to use to unbox the twin cities that their unchecked and rampant growth has boxed them into.
The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy....