At a time when the country is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, the vaastu-loving Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is going ahead with his plan to demolish a 25-acre Secretariat complex in Hyderabad and build a new one at a cost of ₹400 crore.
Interestingly, the reason for taking up the project at such a huge cost is that the present structures have “Vaastu Dosha” (problem with the architecture). The plans for a new complex have been drawn up based on recommendations of Vaastu (Vaastu shastra is a traditional Indian system of architecture originating in India) experts.
The state High Court’s nod for the project has come as a big boost for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government which is keen to bring down all the 10 blocks of the Secretariat complex, overlooking the picturesque Hussain Sagar, as they are not “Vaastu-compliant.”
The environmentalists and heritage lovers have been waging a losing battle to save the Secretariat complex which includes Saifabad palace built in 1888 by the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad.
They received a setback in the High Court which refused to interfere with the cabinet decision and, instead, gave the go-ahead for the controversial project.
“We do not find any irregularity in the cabinet decision to demolish the Secretariat,” the court observed while dismissing two separate petitions filed by academician-activist Prof L Vishweshwara Rao and Congress leader T Jeevan Reddy.
The petitioners had argued that it would be a “wasteful expenditure” to go for a new Secretariat complex as the buildings in the present one were structurally sound enough to be used for many years after minor modifications.
“We will consider approaching the Supreme Court with a review petition, challenging the high court’s order,” Prof Rao said.
The petitioners contended that the existing Secretariat was used by the governments of the combined Andhra Pradesh in the past and many buildings in the complex were constructed in recent years.
During the hearings, the state government had argued that the petitions were ‘politically motivated’ and claimed that it was acting on ‘scientific reports’ submitted by two expert committees.
The court dismissed the petitions filed separately in 2016 by Congress MLA T Jeevan Reddy, advocate T Rajinikanth Reddy, and Forum for Good Governance secretary M Padmanabha Reddy, and also those of Congress MP A Revanth Reddy and Prof PL Vishweshwar Rao filed in 2019, challenging the proposed demolition of Secretariat buildings.
The court also refused to entertain the plea of one of the petitions for a four-month stay on its order so as to enable him to challenge it in the Supreme Court. It said the petitioner could approach the Supreme Court straightaway as it was hearing urgent cases through video conferencing.
Another palace targeted
Soon after the formation of Telangana state in 2014, the TRS government unveiled its plans to construct new secretariat and Assembly complexes.
Errum Manzil, a sprawling palace built during the Nizam era in 1870, has been marked for demolition to pave way for the construction of the Assembly complex.
The twin projects — Secretariat and Assembly complexes — have raised the hackles of environmentalists and opposition parties as they involve tearing down the heritage structures.
While giving the go-ahead for the Secretariat project, the court is yet to pronounce its verdict on the proposed demolition of Errum Manzil. It had earlier ordered stay on the demolition, pending final disposal of the case.
The chief minister laid foundation stones for both the assembly and the Secretariat projects on June 27 last year.
The conservationists and environmental activists have urged the government to revamp the palace instead of tearing it down.
In 2015, the TRS government was forced to withdraw its plans to demolish two other heritage hospital buildings ‒ Chest Hospital in Erragadda and Osmania General Hospital in Afzal Gung. While the former was built in 1888, the latter was established by the last Nizam in 1919.
An iconic city landmark, Errum Manzil (‘Mansion in Paradise’ in Persian), built by Nawab Fakr-ul-Mulk, was used to host royal banquets. Mulk was a minister in the court of the sixth Nizam and was also credited with constructing other heritage monuments in the city such as the Nizam College and Chest Hospital.
The opposition Congress and BJP have made a common cause and opposed KCR’s plans to bring down the heritage structure. They alleged that KCR’s ambitious projects were a mere waste of public money since the existing buildings were stable and continued to serve the purpose.
The environmental activists have been pleading with the government not to go ahead with the demolition.
Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, the secretary of the Legal Heirs association of Nawab Fakr-ul-Mulk, had written to the chief minister requesting the government not to tear down the palace, saying it is part of Hyderabad’s history, culture, and heritage. An online petition launched by civil society groups to save the heritage structure has gathered over 10,000 signatures.
According to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit organisation, the structure required minor repairs and maintenance. A three-member of INTACH inspected the structure and concluded that the building is structurally sound. It must be preserved in view of its architectural and historical value, the team said in its report.
“The present poor condition of the building is a result of negligence. It requires minor attention in some places,” the report said.
Pointing out that the heritage features of the structure are worthy of retention, the team recommended that the state government adopt a proposal to reuse the building.
“The team is of the opinion that the Errum Manzil building is an important heritage asset, and can be structurally sound after rehabilitation, repairs and partial reconstruction undertaken after proper in-depth analysis,” the INTACH convenor Anuradha Reddy said.
The team also recommended that this restoration exercise be executed under the supervision of heritage conservation experts, experienced architects, and structural engineers.
“Hyderabad has a unique history and buildings like this are not there in any other part of the country. It is part of the heritage and the citizens should have a say in whether it can be brought down,” Reddy said.
The Saifabad palace, built in 1888 by the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahboob Ali Pasha, is at the centre of the present Secretariat complex. It is set to be razed to the ground to make way for a new administrative complex to be spread over 7 lakh square feet.
The state government has a full-time Vaastu advisor — Suddala Sudhakar Teja — who has drew the master plan for the new complex along with renowned Mumbai-based architects Hafeez Contractor.
“The complex will be 100% Vaastu compliant. It will provide a healthy working environment and there will be flow of natural energy from all sides,” Teja said.
However, the opposition is not impressed.
“If the Vaastu of the existing Secretariat is bad, how did all the previous Chief Ministers of undivided Andhra Pradesh operate from the same building without any hassles in the last six decades?,” wondered Congress leader G Narayan Reddy.