Regional parties know all about occupying space ceded by the national parties. That is how regional parties are born in the first place. But it takes an exceptionally complacent regional party to let a national party into a state, as seen in the Hyderabad municipal elections.
The Hyderabad floods is a case-study of how not to underestimate the voter. This, and the neglect of other urban issues, has had severe political costs for the government led by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), evident from results of elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
In October 2020, the city faced rains not seen in over 70 years and even boats were employed for transport. Over 37,000 households were affected and the TRS provided cash relief to families to address the losses.
TRS Giving Cash Relief Ahead of GHMC Polls Did Not Work
In November 2020, the government set up the new Strategic Nala Development Programme to revamp storm water drainage in city. Yet, the voters knew that TRS-led GHMC was responsible for urban planning violations that had led to the crisis.
Over 74 percent Hyderabad voters, in a recent study, held the government responsible for the losses in the floods. Over 43 percent respondent of the Urban Distress and Reforms Study, said they had no way of recovering the losses while 26 percent said they would have to borrow money.
In comparison to such towering problems before the citizens, the TRS cash relief was seen as a mockery played out ahead of the GHMC elections.
Politically, it was argued that the upmarket areas were not affected by floods and that the middle class will continue to support the TRS. This belief led to the often-repeated government claims about increased investments in the city and that international brands were opting to set up shop in Hyderabad.
Performance Audits Repeatedly Indicted GHMC For Urban Mess
Once again, the TRS underestimated the Hyderabad voter. The citizens knew that the urban mess around them was the result of corruption and indiscipline in the GHMC. The floods were the result of government apathy, as these problems were flagged several times in past.
In 2018, a Performance Audit of GHMC was done in the areas of building permissions, property tax, solid waste management and storm water drains. It covered the period between 2012-13 to 2016-2017. The findings were part of the CAG Report on Local Bodies, and the relevant parts are summed up here as follows:
- It was found that the GHMC ‘could not ensure compliance’ to building rules issued by the government. This led to deviations from the approved plans and ‘proliferation of unauthorised constructions.’ Until 2017, the approved plans were violated in 41 percent of the assessments, and of these 10,460 were unauthorised constructions.
- Inadequate drainage has been a serious reason for the flooding. The CAG report finds that the GHMC had undertaken 71 improvement works on 26 storm water drains. Of these 71, only 39 were completed and 16 were still in progress. However, 16 works were stopped mid-way ‘due to failure of GHMC in evicting encroachments.’
- A 2011 master plan exists for strengthening storm water drainage system in the city. The CAG report argues that there are 461 water-logging points in Hyderabad, of which 52 are critical, along with 67 major traffic junctions. All these face ‘risk of inundation’ as they are not connected to nearby storm water drains.
- The encroachments of canals and lakes had led to flooding of these low-lying areas. The CAG report notes that 17 lakes were ‘not traceable’ while 9 lakes were ‘fully encroached.’ This has resulted in continued ‘inundation during monsoons.’
Hyderabad Voters Have Done Their Job Better Than Political Parties
Conducted in 15 out of the 24 Assemblies of Hyderabad, the Urban Distress and Reforms Study also revealed that 89 percent respondents felt they deserve a better government. Not surprising then, that only 46 percent turned out to vote, and several of them voted against the TRS.
The TRS once again underestimated the Hyderabad voter, when the government authorities and ministers chided people for not doing their civic duty of voting.
But, as is evident now, people did their duty better than governments ever do. They showed what they wanted – those who voted, whether for BJP or TRS, and also those who did not vote for either parties.
(Dr Kota Neelima is an author and researcher at the Institute of Perception Studies, focusing on democratic deficit and electoral reforms. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)