Guardian Rock overlooking Peerancheru Lake

Blast, break, flatten: often the words used to describe the process involved in leveling rocks to make way for urban development. The natural rock formations are an integral (often overlooked) aspect of the narrative of Hyderabad’s rich history which lies on the Deccan Plateau. The age of the rocks date as far back as 2,500,000,000 years (2.5 billion) one of the oldest rock landscape that was created. As a small city, Hyderabad lay nestled amongst the rocks whose history began with the Golconda Fort city sitting atop a hill.

Apartment buildings at Nanakramguda

A relentless construction activity is fast changing the natural landscape and urban form. In a span of 20 years, the area under metropolitan limit has increased from 170 km2 to 625 km2 and proposed to be further expanded to 928km2. Large tracts of agricultural land, small villages, and intermittent rock landscape were added to the city limit along with many peripheral urban conglomerations. The process of redrawing of their extents is not new to urban centers. The city outgrew its fortified limit and spread to the north, built over an uneven terrain by cutting rocks and falling trees. This was sporadically done following the then ownership pattern and land grabbing of the adjacent areas relying on private vehicles for the commute. As population and demand of housing increased the areas in between them developed. The centers of business shifted from the old to the new city and the extended city in the recent years.

Proposed Masterplan 2031, HMDA website

Today the city of Hyderabad is showcased as the place of Charminar and Cyber Towers juxtaposed together. Literally speaking Charminar symbolizes the heritage and culture that is for consumption for those doing business in the clinical precision of the technologically advanced Cyber Towers and the foreign investments it promises. This mutually exclusive idea of Hyderabad overrides the many layers of identities it contains. There’s more to the city than what meets an ad campaign designed to invite national or an international audience. Nostalgia lurks, for the locals, witnessing a sea change in the city’s development. For the migrants, it is the search for their belonging in the city. ‘What place is Hyderabad?’ is the question that both of them ask.

Cities by their relative placement in a geographical setting offer natural respite from the urban conundrums. For example, Delhi has urban forests (fast depleting), a wide variety of flora, fauna and bird species because of its strategic location at the foothills of Aravalli mountain range, the coastal city of Mumbai or Chennai have a unique ecosystem, the edge of the shore doubles as a large public space. Hyderabad lies on the eastern Deccan Plateau (called Telangana), between the two mountain ranges – Eastern and Western Ghats and on the north by the Vindhya and Satpura mountains, made of vast sheets of massive granite rocks. Anyone familiar with the city knows of the peculiar natural formation of clouds and rocks that are reminiscent of the seasonal shifts. The rocks and blue sky lie at the heart of the city that connects people to nature. The sky undergoes infinite changes in the cloud shape, structure, and patterns through the year – flat, puffy, wispy, high up etc. Full blue, cluster of clouds wafting, stationery clouds of myriad form and size, heavy clouds pregnant with rain, against the backdrop of yellow-orange, red-purple, blue-grey sky filtering sunlight is a sight to behold. The cloud formations are out of human reach and control but the rocks do not enjoy such state anymore, and their loss is irreversible.

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One of the foremost reason to conserve the rock formation is that they are one of the oldest geological formations on earth and very peculiar to the geography and its subterranean volcanic activity. Secondly, it sustains an ecological cycle that cannot be overlooked or denied, the recent flood in Chennai is a live example of the disaster that occurred because of which. This formation is made up of humongous to small size rocks, sometimes so precariously balanced that it seems a gust of air is sufficient to make them tumble down. Some time spent amid the rocky landscape can inspire an ode for their lyrical construct. The Society to Save Rocks is a group of artists, photographers, and environmentalists from Hyderabad working to protection the rocky landscape since 1992. In 1996, they formed themselves into a registered society, and since then, the Society to Save Rocks has expanded to include many other citizens, from students to housewives to businessmen and bureaucrats. The Society to Save Rocks aims to preserve and protect the spectacular ancient granite formations of the Deccan Plateau, India – a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks shaped into picturesque balancing forms. A constant effort by the society made authorities recognise their natural heritage value and 9 such rock precincts were listed under Regulation 13 for protection in the year 1997. And in 2009, another 15 rock sites were notified as heritage precinct by the then government of Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad is the only city in India where rocks are protected as a natural heritage.

The rock landscape is a hard, impervious and undulating terrain converting low-lying areas into water bodies replenished by small channels.The crevices between rocks filled with water during the rainy season are home to seasonal aquatic and reptilian life.  Bats feeding on mosquitoes, help to control their numbers, are commonly found in moisture laden fissures. The vegetation is peculiar as the wild plant species found can grow without water for extended period of time. The water bodies, large or small, thus formed are home to migratory birds every winter with birds migrating as far from Russia. The rocks, water bodies, vegetation, fauna are deeply connected to each other in sustaining an ecological cycle. Incautious planning and development activity in the urban areas is disturbing this natural cycle and rendering it irreversible. The rocks are cut to use as building material, low-lying areas are filled, channels are dump filled, trees and plants fallen in order to develop land parcels. This inadvertently disturbs the natural drainage of the place, making it susceptible to floods. The constant construction of infrastructure, buildings, the pollution from the vehicles emit particulate matter into the air reducing its quality starkly. Increased temperature, extended summer, a dearth of rain, numerous deep bore wells are reducing the water table resulting in acute shortage of water.

Satellite images from 2005, 2010 and 2015 of the development along old Bombay Highway


The case is not against urban development as it is the only way forward for cities. An objective approach is required that can address the issues of development and urban ecology together. It is necessary to respond to the needs of the city and also the need of the existing natural heritage. This is not possible without the will of the governing authorities that takes the decisions for the course of future growth and development. Civil societies or citizens collective have a limited role in proposing, creating awareness, or sometimes even pressurising but it is the competent authorities that can put it to implementation. There are examples, recent and old, that teach us that destructing a natural ecosystem hasn’t proved to be beneficial in the long run. And we rely on human resilience to overcome a state of emergency when disaster strikes instead of planning with foresight. We need better planning and design in order to create better cities and better future.


Topographical Map of Hyderabad


The following are some recommendations to protect natural heritage:

1. Planning

i. Identify key areas of influence of rock landscape and ecological cycle it sustains as a system.
ii. Change the direction of growth from sensitive zones.
iii. Introduce buffer zones that are specific to each area identified to reduce the negative impacts of development.
iv. Identify key elements of the system: rocks, water bodies, watersheds, drainage pattern, vegetation, fauna and avian species for different seasons.
v. Create a regular monitoring body to keep the system in check.
vi. Land use should be compatible with its surrounding area and not exceed optimum pollution level as prescribed.
vii. Create awareness among the official decision makers, local community and stakeholders, in addition to students, professionals and participants from across diverse fields.

2. Urban Design

i. Incorporate rock formations in creating public space where it doesn’t disturb a natural habitat.
ii. To make intermittent areas of development accessible a network of terraces and steps can be introduced.
iii. Buffer zones can be designed to create spaces for community and public interactions.
iv. Foster an active recreation for the city by designing natural rock trails, walks, parks etc.
v. Create a network of open spaces that facilitate walking, cycling, or new forms of sports like parkour etc.
vi. Create a system of rock, water bodies, open spaces that can act as the lung space of the city.
vii. Where necessary spaces must be built of temporary materials.
viii. The roofs built on terraces can be designed to interconnect public recreation space.
ix. Use of smaller rock outcrops as a community, breakout, picnic, or interaction spaces.
x. Engaging local people in design and guardianship of spaces that benefit them.

3. Architecture

i. Minimal cutting of rocks.
ii.Encouraging building on slopes and stepped terraces.
iii. Designing with rocks as an element of space in built areas.
iv. Use of courtyards and verandas in building as open elements.
v. Use of rock outcrops in indoor garden and pools as the core of design.
vi. Feature walls of rocks to display art etc.

The list is not complete or exhaustive. We can only hope that some action will be taken before we render the blast, break, flattening process irreversible and the entire landscape disappears from our eyes.
Note: This post is an outcome of a year long observation of a commute I undertook as a visiting asst. prof at an architecture college. The rock walk with the Society to Save Rocks really inspired me to consolidate my thoughts.

Communities Without Boundaries negotiating the urban segregation of Muslims in Delhi



There are plethora of issues faced by the cities due to rapid urbanization in India. The process of urbanization itself is peculiar to developing nations –the focus is on the economic growth of the nation, the role of cities then become central to it. The shift in the structure of the city as a result of planning and policy is apparent both economically and morphologically. There is always polarization occurring at a socio-economic and socio-cultural level between communities, and claiming and territorializing urban space is a process that is evident in all Indian cities. Muslims in Indian cities are undergoing a phenomenon by which they’re being segregated implicitly into distinct quarters and locations that are disconnected from the larger city functionally and socially. Such segregation added with lack of infrastructure, civic neglect by the state, increasingly attached negativity to the identity of Muslims is creating an alternative urbanism subject to a singular community that are getting marginalized socially, economically, politically and importantly spatially. This thesis focuses on the spatiality of the issue and how through the applied urban design can such segregation be negotiated.

Communicities (idea)

the merging of different communities in the city without physical, social or economic boundaries as active participants of the city life and in access to public resources mainly commerce, institution, and natural


The phenomenon of segregation has existed ever since mankind began the concept of concentrated living in a society, and composing themselves into distinct quarters. The organization of these quarters is then based upon the hierarchical structure which was also the ways in which traditional settlements have evolved. The administrative center represented the seat of power, the religious center along which life revolved, the market place where all trade and commercial activities took place and finally the residential quarters, of those who have the most power remain close to these centers (core) and the farthest forms the territories of the poor and marginalized (periphery) with least access to any of the centers of activity. This pattern of organization has existed across all traditional cities, colonial cities which distinctly segregated the natives from their colonial rulers and even the postcolonial and emergent cities which are exhibiting new pattern of such divisions. Segregation is inherent to man’s nature and how we organize ourselves and the others in cities. Sometimes the rationale behind is either the political, social or economic systems, but they’re not independent of each other. To extrapolate, the Master plan which functionally divides land zones is an extension of this age-old hegemonic pattern implicit to planning.

Urban segregation in Indian cities manifest in different ways. The dividing lines are based on religion, caste, occupation, regional language and culture, status etc. Segregation in urban context is about separation – a separation of people or separation of activities and functions. Segregation of communities that is voluntarily observed helps preserve and inheritance of culture, history, institutions, and language etc., and have positive impacts, also called as congregation of communities. Segregation is the process by which a population group is forced, i.e. involuntarily, to cluster in a defined spatial area, in a ghetto. It is the process of formation and maintenance of a ghetto.1 Muslims dominated areas across Indian cities and small towns which were integrated are becoming increasingly ethnic quarters. With each event of a communal violence Muslims, Hindus, and other group of minorities who reside in mixed neighborhoods chose to move to out of localities that have a predominant population of the other group. The clustering of neighborhoods, attached with sentiments of hatred and violence, continuous neglect by state, lack of infrastructure and civic amenities will escalate the scale of segregation and the stigma attached with any community. If we are to take the idea of cities as places where everyone has equal right and equal opportunities, then the segregation that is caused as an implied or unintended consequence is questionable. In such instances, arises the question that in what ways a city can offer to people in terms of opportunities and access to improve the general standard of life. Though segregation occurs due to various social, political and economic factors, it creates a hierarchical spatial structure increasing physical distances between people in cities. On the contrary, it is the coming together, in various public spheres, of various people where social interactions or business endeavors take place. All spaces in cities are a product of their socio cultural and socio economic activities- the built environment, links and interactions that enable such functions, activities and use create the public realm integral to an urban system that can reverse the process of segregation. A city is a physical, functional and social organization – the physical sub-system forming the buildings, streets, infrastructure and the human sub-system of movement, interaction and activity.2 Segregation has then, both spatial and social meaning. Spatial difference between residences of different people in city equals social segregation that has negative perception of ethnic concentration.

Primary Site

Zakir Nagar is a locality in one of the five Muslim concentrated areas in the south-west of Delhi. Originally home to few teachers and clerical staff of the Jamia Milia University it lay on the fringe of the river Yamuna. Jogabai and Okhla were the two urban villages; Gafoor Nagar and Batla House were small dense clusters of houses of which Zakir Nagar is an extension. Post communal riots of 1990 and Gujarat pogrom of 2002 people from surrounding mixed neighborhoods relocated and migrants from north India surged. The area expanded rapidly, forest tracts disappeared and new colonies came up. The socio economic status of the residents became more diverse. Many aspirant people could not move to other neighborhoods for the fear of violence and denied of housing in other areas of city remain concentrated in these locations.


Segregation increases polarization between people, increases the vulnerability of a group of people. Spatial concentrations reduce mobility and networking that are essential to participating in city life that is based on sharing of public resources. Urban form plays an important role in reversing the process of segregation by making accessibility to common resources through public spaces. The morphology of the place is reflected through neighborhoods, buildings and urban public spaces and the way people connect through them enabling interaction. The ever increasing scale of the cities gives people more choice to locate farther, resulting in fragmented cities. Unlike socio-economic and socio-cultural divide in cities, ethnic segregation happens at a finer scale in our context. Residential and social segregation happens at a micro scale, neighborhood level and dispersion is seen at an urban level. Location is another important aspect of segregation – communities that are in the process of getting marginalized invariably are located on the periphery, edge or disadvantaged locations. Self-segregated communities are more at an advantage; they tend to be located by economically active, connected by well integrated street, provided with adequate infrastructure. This too represents a hierarchy of power between the different groups in cities. Many forms of buffers are created that creates a discontinuous urban texture in such places. These buffers restrict growth horizontally, reduces free movement and accessibility, increasing density and reduced options for housing creates stress on existing infrastructure can seriously degrade the standard of living and hence, the imageability of place. Co-operative group housing, gated communities, residential enclaves facilitate housing to exclusive group of people. Gates are more symbolic of status to these places. Segregation is embedded in some urban layouts that create spatial conditions that restrict the movement of people through them. The focus on physical environment, accessibility through public spaces of resources and presence in public realm that can be achieved help reverse the process of segregation.


  1. Enclaves Yes, Ghettoes, No: Segregation and the State, Peter Marcuse, 2001, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conference Paper
  2. The City as a socio-technical system: a spatial reformulation in the light of the levels problem and the parallel problem,Hiller 2009.


• Susan S. Fainstein, Scott Campbell (Editors),2011: Readings in Urban Theory, 3rd Edition, Wiley-Blackwell. • Ronan Paddison, 2001: Handbook of Urban Studies, Sage Publications Lts. • Ali Madanipour, 1996: Design of Urban Space: an Inquiry into a socio-spatial process: John Wiley & Sons • Carl H. Nightingale, : Segregation, A Global History of Divided cities • Peter Saunders, 1989: Social Theory and the Urban Question • Laurent Gayer & Christopher Jaffrelot, 2012 : Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalization, HarperCollins • Jane Jacobs, 1966: Death and Life of Great American Cities

Articles, Essays, Journals|

• Socio-spatial differentiation and residential segregation in Delhi: a question of scale? Veronique Dupont, Geoforum 35 (2004) 157-175 • The Capitalistic Logic of Spatial Segregation: A study of Muslims in Delhi, Ghazala Jamil, Economic and Political Weekly ,Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jan. 2014), pp. 52-58 • Enclaves Yes, Ghettoes, No: Segregation and the State, Peter Marcuse, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conference Paper • Ethnic Segregation in Cities: New Forms and Explanations in a Dynamic World, Ronald van Kempen and A. Sule Ozuekren, Urban Studies, Vol. 35, No. 10, 1631-1656, 1998 • What’s So New about Divided Cities? Peter Marcuse, Joint Editors and Basil Blackwell Ltd 1993. Published by Blackwell Publishers • Spaces of Discrimination, Residential Segregation in Indian Cities, Trina Vithayathil, Gayatri Singh, Economic and Political Weekly ,Vol. 47, No. 37 (Sep. 15, 2014), pp. 60-67 • Countering Urban Segregation: Theoretical and Policy Innovations from around the Globe Peer Smets and Ton Salman, 2008 Urban Studies Journal Limited, 45(7) 1307–1332, June 2008 • Eurocities : Cities Action Against Social Exclusion (Case),Final Report, Ali Madanipour, January 2003 • Beirut Divided: The potential of urban design in reuniting a culturally divided city, Benjamin J Leclair-Paquet, June 2012, DPU Working Paper No. 153, UCL