In a major setback to the Vaastu-loving chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the Telangana High Court has directed his government on Tuesday (September 17) not to demolish the ‘Errum Manzil’, a 19th century heritage structure in the heart of the city. The plan was to bring it down to pave way for a new Assembly complex at a cost of ₹100 crore.
Brushing aside protests from the opposition and heritage activists, the State cabinet had decided in June this year to demolish the imposing structure built during the reign of the sixth Nizam.
The court ruling is seen as a victory for environmental activists and conservationists who have been fighting to save the iconic structure.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL), filed by city-based activists, had argued that the construction of a new Assembly complex was a waste of public money as the present majestic structure, which used to serve as the Town Hall during the Nizam’s reign, is in good condition and spacious enough to accommodate all MLAs and officers.
The court agreed with the petitioners’ argument that Errum Manzil, a 150-year-old building, needs to be protected.
No heritage tag
However, the government took recourse to the new Heritage Act which had removed Errum Manzil (‘Mansion in Paradise’ in Persian) from the list of heritage structures. It had proposed to build a Vaastu-compliant Assembly complex.
“The destruction of heritage building will rob its people of the essence of their identity and will deprive the city its sense of uniqueness. While it is important to plan for the future, it is equally important to protect, preserve and promote the past,” the court said in its order.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Shameem Akhter, termed the cabinet decision as ‘arbitrary and legally unsustainable.’
Apart from the Assembly, the State government also plans to demolish the present Secretariat and build a new integrated complex in its place. There is opposition to the plan with critics questioning the move since this would cost ₹400 to 500 crore to the exchequer.
Victory for heritage
The conservationists and heritage activists welcomed the court order, saying it was a victory for heritage and would go a long way in preserving several such monuments in the city.
“The judgement is the recognition of the citizens’ role as co-owners of the institutional heritage buildings. These wonderful structures can be converted into cultural centres and other uses. Rajasthan is a perfect example of how heritage structures can create a great economic value,” the convener of the Hyderabad chapter of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (INTACH) Anuradha Reddy said.
Another heritage activist Sajjad Shahid said that the next step would be to convince the government to restore the structure to its old glory.
“Errum Manzil has immense historical significance. This was where the Nawab would host Hindu and Muslim festivals in a sign of the long-standing tradition of tolerance. This structure must be renovated and protected,” said Jitendra Babu, one of the petitioners representing the Deccan Archaeological and Cultural Research Institute.
The activists contend that there was no need for a new Assembly complex when the existing one is in a good condition and had in fact catered to requirements of the combined Andhra Pradesh in the past. The strength of Telangana Assembly is 119, compared to 294 members in the combined AP Assembly.
Moreover, Errum Manzil was a notified heritage structure under the erstwhile Hyderabad Urban Development Authority (HUDA). Necessary repairs can give the building a fresh lease of life.
Spread over 36 acres atop a hillock known as “Erra Gadda” (Red Hill), the 150-room palace was built in 1870 by Nawab Fakr-ul-Mulk and 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 found a common cause and opposed KCR’s plans to bring down the heritage structure.
Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, the secretary of the Legal Heirs association of Nawab Fakr-ul-Mulk, had also 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 was also launched by civil society groups to save the structure.
A three-member team of INTACH inspected the structure and concluded that the building was 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. 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,” the INTACH convener said.
The court faulted the government for ignoring its own regulations on protection of heritage structures.
“The government ignored that Regulation 13 of the Zonal regulations was framed by the HUDA which recognised Errum Manzil as heritage structure and accorded protection. The government also forgot the fact that it did not have the power to repeal the regulation because that authority is vested with the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority. Hence, the very repeal is illegal,” the court ruled.