Telangana: 7 years after Smart City tag, recurrent flooding Warangal’s key poll issue

Warangal’s smart city projects are incomplete because of insufficient fund allocations, say civic rights activists.

WrittenBy:Anjana Meenakshi
A map of Telangana.

About seven years after Telangana’s Warangal was chosen to be developed as a Smart City by the Union government’s Smart Cities Mission, parts of the city still record flooding during heavy rains because of its inefficient drainage system.   

Despite the Bharat Rashtra Samithi-led state government being constantly criticised by locals, activists and opposition leaders for failing to ensure that Telangana’s second largest city remains protected from floods, slum dwellers continue to bear the brunt.

The News Minute visited the slums in Warangal’s Sammaiah Nagar, Rajajinagar, Gokul Nagar and other surrounding areas to understand the effects of flooding. The locals who spoke to this reporter emphasised the major issue facing Warangal residents today was the flooding experienced by the city. It is also set to be a poll issue in the region with assembly elections scheduled for November 30.

These slums fall under Warangal West constituency, and the BRS, BJP and Congress candidates contesting from the area will need to win the local’s confidence over the issue to secure the seat. 

While the incumbent BRS MLA and government chief whip Dasyam Vinay Bhaskar is focused on promoting the state government’s welfare schemes to woo voters, including the scheme for double-bedroom housing, Congress candidate Naini Rajender Reddy and BJP’s Rao Padma have criticised the BRS for failing to develop the constituency, and for not properly implementing the Smart Cities Mission.

The Greater Warangal Municipal Corporation was selected for the Smart Cities Mission project by the Union government in May 2016, a year after the mission’s launch. At the time of this announcement, the BJP had said it wanted to ensure that the selected cities would have internet connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described smart cities as “those with very high quality of life comparable with any developed European city.” 

Pulluru Sudhakar, president of civic group Forum for Better Warangal, alleged that the Union government did its job in monetarily assisting Warangal, but the state government did not provide its share of the funds, which caused works to remain incomplete. Reports citing government statistics said in February that out of the 81 projects tendered in Greater Warangal smart city, only 32 had been completed.

As per the mission’s guidelines, every Smart City is entitled to receive Rs 500 crore from the Union government over a period of five years. The state or the urban local body needs to match this with an equal amount. 

In Warangal, funds from the state were to be provided through the GWMC, which was formed as a Special Purpose Vehicle of the Warangal Smart City Development Corporation Limited. 

However, till February this year, the centre had provided Rs 196 crore, while the state had provided funds worth Rs 70 crore.

Lives disrupted by flooding

Residents of Sammaiah Nagar – a locality named after late Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader A Sammaiah – said despite housing being provided to the scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and backward class families, the living situation was deplorable.

“Sammaiah Nagar was heavily prone to land grabbing in the 90s. The fight led by CPI(M) leaders like Ramulu, Prabhakar Reddy and Telugu Desam Party’s Pranay Bhasker, ensured that over 53 acres of land was allotted to homeless people,” said Uppalaiah, a CPI(M) leader. But access to housing hasn’t translated to safe habitation over the years. 

Bapu Rao and Sunitha, a scheduled caste Madiga Christian couple residing in Sammaiah Nagar, said every time it rains, their house is flooded and they have to pack up and move elsewhere until the rains subside. 

Srilatha, another resident of the area who moved to Warangal from Mallampalle village near Mulugu district, in search of employment 11 years ago, said she had “little faith in political parties”. “The current government has done nothing for us. I will go and vote as proof that I am alive but I have little faith in political parties.” 

Another resident, Radha*, said flood waters rise to more than five-feet. “When it rains water can come up till here,” said the woman, pointing to her cheek. The flood waters also washed away goods in their grocery store.

A 10-minute walk from Sammaiah Nagar, a shopkeeper in Rajaji Nagar pointed to a pumpkin hung outside his store, six-feet from the ground, denoting the flood water levels. “Water reached till that point.” 

“I had to dispose of all my produce. This problem recurs because our open sewers are hindered by encroachments,” he said, pointing towards a building constructed alongside the sewer, a few feet away from his shop. 

How smart is the Smart Cities Mission?

Inadequate storm water drains, rampant encroachment of lake beds and lack of underground sewer system have all contributed to Warangal’s infrastructure woes. 

Under the  Smart Cities project, the city’s area-based development plan envisions to retrofit and redevelop 1,583 acres in Warangal’s central area, and transform it into a smart neighbourhood by improving the lives of its residents.

The Union urban and housing affairs ministry, which is incharge of implementing the Smart Cities project, said in February this year that while the Union government has released Rs 196 crore so far, the state government has released only Rs 70 crore. 

An Economic Times report published in June also noted that the Telangana government has not released its share of funds for the SCM’s implementation in Warangal. 

Speaking to The News Minute, a GWMC official said it’s not right to say that the Smart Cities project has failed. “Both the state and Union governments have been allocating funds. At best, there is an administrative delay from the state government which is understandable. Recently, the Union government released Rs 67.5 crores and the state government will reciprocate.”

On being asked about the flooding in areas like Sammaiah Nagar, the official said it had nothing to do with lakes or storm water drains. “The flooding could be a result of either leaks in slum housing which have no bearing on drainage.” 

Faulty construction, bad planning

Forum for Better Warangal’s Pulluru Sudhakar said most areas of Warangal either lack a drainage system or have only a partial system. “Even the Hanmakonda excise colony, a wealthy area of Warangal had to be content with a partly functioning drainage for several years. If we had under ground drainage, this problem wouldn’t arise.”  

Many feel that bhoomi kabzah (land capture) is what renders the creation of a proper drainage system difficult. Land near sewerage drains often gets encroached which makes expansion work in times of floods impossible. 

“In Sammaiah Nagar alone, the water from Wadepally cheruvu (lake) finds its way into these colonies when rains are heavy. Forum for Better Warangal had suggested construction of a retaining wall from Sammaiah Nagar to Bhadrakali Nala (sewerage) a few kilometres away to avoid this problem, but that never happened,” said Sudhakar.  

After floods hit Telangana in 2020, the state’s municipal administration and urban development minister KT Rama Rao instructed officials in Warangal to conduct a special drive to remove illegal structures on sewerages as they were causing flooding in low-lying areas. 

He also announced the constitution of a special task force under the chairmanship of Warangal (urban) collector and promised removal of illegal structures within 45 days. 

Flood-affected victims said recurring floods were indeed proof of illegal structures.

*name changed to protect privacy

This report has been published as part of the joint NL-TNM Election Fund and is supported by hundreds of readers. Click here to power our ground reports.

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