Why Osman Sagar is turning bone dry in spite of heavy rains?

Yunus Y. Lasania and Daneesh Majid

Hyderabad: At one point of time, a few years ago, the Nizam-era Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar lakes used to supply about 10 per cent of Hyderabad’s total daily water supply of 345 million gallons per day (MGD). Cut to 2020 and the lakes are literally nowhere close to their optimum levels, with Osman Sagar being literally barren today, in spite of continuous rains during this monsoon season.

The century-old  Osman Sagar astonishingly has not received any inflows despite continuous rainfall over the last three days. Once a picnic spot and destination for those seeking some greenery in Hyderabad, it is currently shut as the public is barred from visiting it..

The century-old Osman Sagar remains dry in spite of continuous rainfall. Picture: Yunus Y. Lasania

When visiting the lake on Monday, the view clearly punched below its weight due to the depleted water levels. Despite the continuous downpour over the last few days, which in fact saw many areas in Hyderabad being flooded, there was little inflow into the water body.  The vast area of Osman Sagar is literally barren in the vein of a drought.

A senior HMWSSB official, who did not want to be quoted, said that the situation is a result of rainwater not flowing into the lake’s catchment area. Heritage activists have been alleging that this horrible situation is the result of illegal construction activity in these catchment area of the lake.

The century-old Osman Sagar remains dry in spite of continuous rainfall. Picture: Yunus Y. Lasania

Currently, the HMWSS supplies about 462 MGD of water to Hyderabad every day, most of which is taken from the Krishna (phase 1, 2 and 3) and Godavari (phase-1) projects. The Osman Sagar, and Himayat Sagar reservoirs put together, however, supply only 40 MGD (or much lesser depending on availability) of water.

“There has been no rain in the catchment area of Osman Sagar so it is dry. The water body has not been supplying water to Hyderabad for the last six months. However, Himayat Sagar, has received inflows of about eight feet over the past week,” said an HMWSSB official who did not want to be quoted.  The dire situation of the lake is evident with the fully exposed marks on the reservoir which indicate the normal water levels.

When asked if the lack of inflows into the Osman Sagar is a result of illegal construction in the catchment area, that official said that construction activity is allowed only as per rules of GO 111, which the state government passed years ago to protect the lake. Out of their total installed capacity of 45 MGD, both the Osman and Himayat Sagar lakes have been together supplying only about 15 MGD at best from the past few years.

The century-old Osman Sagar remains dry in spite of continuous rainfall. Picture: Yunus Y. Lasania

Sajjad Shahid, well-known heritage activist, who is an engineer by profession, said that the catchment area has been impacted by illegal constructions, which GO 111 should have avoided from happening.

“Even without that provision being scrapped, violations still happen don’t they? Basically that means you are not interested in maintaining your water resources.  How can you simply ignore the water supplies that you have? With all that construction how will the water come there?” he questioned.

Shahid pointed out that roads and farms have been built near the lakes.  “Not only did the general public, but even the government is involved and took up huge construction projects. The CCMB unit set up there was a major violation,” he added.

The history

Both Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar were built to stop excess water from overflowing into the Musi River, after the 1908 devastating Musi river floods in Hyderabad which killed thousands of people. The 1908 floods took place during the time of Mahboob Ali Pasha, the Sixth Nizam of Hyderabad. It led to him commissioning the services of M. Visweswaraya, the legendary Indian engineer, who suggested that two dams be built keep the Musi River’s water outside the city.

While Mahbub Ali Pasha died in 1911, his son and the last Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, sought to develop Hyderabad and make it flood-proof. He got both the lakes constructed under the aegis of the City Improvement Board, which was set-up in 1912. Both lakes were then developed over the next two decades.