An 1872 aqueduct that connected a series of irrigation tanks to the south of Hyderabad and kept the city safe from flooding is now just a dotted line on old Survey Of India maps. The aqueduct connected lakes and artificial tanks between Chandanvalli and Ibrahimpatnam paralleling the River Musi that flows through the city.
“The aqueduct served as a flood-control measure as well as an irrigation channel. But as property prices have risen, the disused portions of the channel have been encroached. The inundation of colonies around Shukoor Sagar lake is because of these encroachments,” says K. Purshottam Reddy, who was on the board of Environment Protection Training Research Institute.
Aqueducts are called Firangi/Phirangi due to their novelty in Indian irrigation systems. During the flood of October 2020, it was the southern part of Hyderabad that was ravaged as overflowing water from Jalpally Lake, Surram Cheruvu, Palle Cheruvu, Umda Sagar and Gurram Cheruvu raced towards the River Musi.
It didn’t help matters that these lakes have also shrunk due to residential colonies being developed by political strongmen. “If the aqueduct was in use, the flooding would not have been so devastating,” says Mr. Reddy. South Hyderabad bore the brunt of flooding in 2020 and 2021.
While the aqueduct has disappeared on the ground it still marks the boundaries of four out of 28 wards of Jalpally Municipality notified in 2019.
The aqueduct’s importance as a flood-control method declined when a series of lakes and tanks including the Chandanvelli broke their banks on September 27-28, 1908, flooding the Musi River and killing 15,000 residents in Hyderabad.
Irrigation Minister Harish Rao blamed urbanisation projects like the 150-km Outer Ring Road and National Highways for disrupting the remnants of the aqueducts, rendering it useless.
“I tried to trace it but only small portions of the original aqueduct remain near Umda Sagar lake and near Shamshabad. The water flow is disturbed and it is stagnant,” says Sibghat Khan, an architect who traced the water channel on a map.
A similar effort to trace the aqueduct was not successful at Osman Nagar. “People of the locality blamed the destruction of the aqueduct for inundation of their colony. The farmers in the area remembered the channel but they were helpless as large portions of it had already disappeared,” says Anant Maringanti of Hyderabad Urban Labs.