Lake of lost hope?

Tank BundHussain Sagar, or Tank Bund, as it is known more commonly is an artificial lake in the center of the city of Hyderabad. Built originally as a water reservoir almost 400 years ago, it is mainly a receptacle of sewage water and industrial waste from the neighboring areas. Tank Bund is an important urban space, it is historically significant besides being one of the spaces in cities that is public, open, inclusive, democratic. It was one of the important places of Telangana separation movement, and continues to be a place for demonstrations and protests. The building of malls, making of the Necklace Road drive and Eat Street shifted the momentum of public activity to other areas, the significance that belies it as a public urban space remains. The city of Hyderabad itself is identifiable with the lake as much as it is with the icon of Charminar.

Tank bund is in the center of discussion again – but for the number of people committing suicide by jumping into it. However, Telangana itself is the state with the second highest rate of deaths by suicide. It is not surprising that the majority of people attempting suicide are women (56%) and minors (17%) belong to the vulnerable group. The reason being either financial difficulty or family quarrels, and by women mostly belonging to the neighboring slum who are victims of domestic abuse. In order to stop people from attempting suicide a proposal was made to the authorities to install a fence around the lake. Though, so far, the civic authorities have not taken action, putting fence will not help people who are actually committing suicide. What it will possibly change is the statistics around the lake on the number of people attempting suicide, and dying as a result of which. Such a move is unlikely to be of any help in actually mitigating the deeper and graver societal problems that underlie such extreme acts taken by people. On the surface it does appear to help in reducing the options, in the large scheme it is almost redundant. For example: access to the terrace of Charminar was restricted after someone committed suicide by jumping, however, the number of suicides have increased over the years. To further extrapolate it doesn’t make sense to stop manufacture of cars because people are dying of road accidents.

This brings out an interesting limitation of urban governance in issues that have deep sociocultural and socioeconomic impact. Putting a fence is reductionist approach to providing solution that can divert the larger issues of the suicide itself, even though governing such a subject is engaging in a difficult domain. Nonetheless, fencing is not the solution. In all growing cities it is a common practice to put fences at the pretext of ‘protection’ which gives access to some people and exclude most. It achieves very little as people must have opportunity and access to common natural resources in the city – be it for work or leisure etc. The protection of lakes using fences around it while blocking the natural drain and channels doesn’t really help in sustaining its water level, quality or ecology associated. As is the usual practice, high-rise buildings are built to tap into the potential of having a natural feature and after sometime lakes become the receptacle of sewage waste (For example: Durgam Cheruvu in Hyderabad has literally become sewage disposal space).

Even as there are no easy or simple solutions to issues of urban governance – various aspects intersect that need to be addressed are problematic. It highlights other issues contingent- the water entering Tank Bund is supposed to be recycled before being released into the lake, the monitoring body doesn’t have protective equipment for the life rescuers at the lake, and the work of life rescuers is fraught with difficulties. Installing fences will only help in deflecting the problem of suicides in urban areas and doesn’t really address the underlying cause.

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