In between splurging on branded goods stores and food courts at Inorbit Mall, Cyberabad, shoppers love the unhindered view of the city the mall offers. But the sight that greets you is nothing to cheer about. The once rocky landscape is now falling prey to urbanisation. The plush office complexes that have sprung up in and around Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur and Gachibowli reflect Hyderabad's changing topography.

Incidentally, 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. The theme of the World Environment Day 2010 (June 5) is Many Species: One Planet, One Future and the highlighting theme: Highlighting theme: Biodiversity- Ecosystem Management and the Green Economy.

Heritage list

The unregularised cutting/blasting of rocks in the name of urbanisation is a cause of worry. “Hyderabad has a bizarre landscape which you cannot find in other cities. Sadly this is undergoing a change. Only 24 rock formations find place in the HMDA heritage list, while at least 100 rock formations in Gachibowli should be included in the list,” says Frauke Qadar, of Society to Save Rocks.

Razing the rocks to the ground happens as a matter of routine. According to the rule book, builders need to obtain permission from the HMDA if a construction takes place in the vicinity of a rock formation that is part of the heritage list. For other rocky areas, the mines and mineral department needs to be contacted. “In practice, nobody follows rules and break down rocks within their plot of land,” rues Frauke.

The changing topography and losing Hyderabad's sense of aesthetics are just part of the concern. A deeper issue, environmentalists point out, is the effect it can have on water management systems. “Geological studies show that rock formations have a bearing on channelising rain water and thereby affecting the underground water system,” points out Anuradha Reddy, environmentalist and convener, INTACH, Hyderabad chapter.

Rocks and lakes, Anuradha notes, have been part of the cityscape since the times of Qutb Shahi and Asif Jahi rulers. “The Qutb Shahi rulers built lakes using the natural heights and hollows to trap rain water and the Asif Jahis strengthened this system further. Even if we are not saving rocks as responsible citizens, we should save them for our own selfish reasons — to lead a better quality of life.”

A few environmentalists raise a concern that the damage caused to rocks can lead to seismic movements (remember the mild tremor that occurred in Jubilee Hills in September 2000?). Dr. Y.J. Bhaskar Rao, acting director, National Geophysical Research Institute, rules out the argument that damage to rocks will cause seismic movements. On Hyderabad's rock formations that date back to 2400-2500 million years ago, he says, “Damage to rocks will affect water channels and the hydrological equilibrium. The rocks we see today are vestiges of recent denudation of the outer layer of the earth's crust over the years.”

The silver lining is the architectural use of some of these natural formations as part of homes and office campuses. But, these are far and few in between.