Why expansion avenues for the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad are quite limited

400px-hyderabad_from_char_minar

By Mohan Guruswamy*

Hyderabad is the 24th largest city in the world with a population of 5.3 million and a population density of 9100 per sq.kms. Bombay and Calcutta on the other hand have population densities that are almost thrice as much as Hyderabad’s. Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad are in the same population density bandwidth. Beijing’s density is 11000. Hyderabad’s density is the same as Sao Paulo’s, a city that is thrice as big as it. The twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad have its people living in an area of 172 km². By 2030 the twin cities will be home, cheek by jowl, to 10.15 millions.

That means in just another fifteen 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.kms. with a population of 9.23 millions, 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.kms.

The GHMC starts with Shamshabad in the south and goes up to Gundla Pochampally in the north, from Vanasthalipuram in the east to Patancheruvu in the west. 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 Bangalore and Bangkok. It has a Pollution Index (PI) of 79.98 as opposed to Bangalore’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.

Ditto for the Pollution Exponential Scale (PES) which is arrived at using an exponential scale to show very high numbers for very polluted cities, and very low numbers for unpolluted cities. India’s most polluted city using this composite scale is Kanpur with a score of 182.98, but Hyderabad is not very far behind with a score of 143.36.

Compared to it Shenzhen, China’s most exporting city, which has a score of 149.75 and the world’s most built up and among its largest cities, Shanghai, has a score of 155.86. All this going to establish that the people of the twin cities are living dangerously without the attendant economic and urban comfort levels. Its should also hence come as no surprise that Indians have 30% lower lung function compared to Europeans.

Traffic congestion is a condition on road networks that occurs as use increases, and is characterized 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 fully stopped for periods of time, this is colloquially known as traffic jam or traffic snarl-up.

Those who live in any of our big cities experience the “joys” of growth and progress everyday in terms of the time taken to move from on spot in the city to another. Interestingly Hyderabad is not among the top ten of India’s car owning cities, but 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. But this will not be helped by the Chief Minister, K Chandrashekhara Rao’s, recently expressed intentions of building a new Secretariat at Secunderabad’s historic Parade and Gymkhana grounds, and to build a high rise city center around the excessively polluted Hussainsagar. By doing this he will 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.

KCR broke tradition by holding Telangana’s first Aug 15 event under the watchful ramparts of Golconda fort, such a central part of Telangana’s history. Likewise he must break the mould and build a new administrative capital, equally for the sake of posterity, as it would be to save the twin cities from choking to death on its air and liquid effluence.

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, Calcutta in the east and Madras 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 line also begins at Nagole and by extending it a bit more the new capital area will be linked to the Metro grid. The outer ring road also gives it fast access to Shamshabad airport.

The expansion avenues for the twin cities are quite limited considering its hemmed in the north by the military cantonment and facilities. Its expansion towards the west is limited both by Begumpet airport which now sits plumb center 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 underused Begumpet airport was established inn 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 back 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. In 1956, the AFA, now redesignated as Air Force College moved out of Begumpet, and the station was named “Air Force Station, Hyderabad”. In 1963, No.1 Transport Training Wing was moved to AFS Hyderabad and remained there till its amalgamation into the TTW Bangalore in 1968.

Air Force Station Begumpet as we know it today, came into establishment in 1968, and remains so till this date. Its utility and place in the IAF scheme of things is very limited. Instead of seeking to repossess the Parade and Gymkhana Maidan’s from the Ministry of Defence, the State Government will do well to repossess the Begumpet airport from the IAF and build a new financial and commercial center for the twin cities here.

While the Metro will help in decongesting, it will also serve to build traffic pressure along its arteries. We can see this in Gurgaon and other places in the NCR where vehicle density and waiting dramatically increase at metro stations. To keep this pressure low, the twin cities need a secondary mass transit system, like a monorail to crisscross between the major transport arteries. Monorails have the advantage of costing a lot less, and require lesser space on the ground. Besides the minimum economic size of the train will also be less, meaning more trains and routes.

The CM has shown himself to be capable of out-of-the-box thinking. He now 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.

*Senior policy analyst. Source: Author’s Facebook timeline


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