Vaastu-loving KCR plans demolition of heritage structures

Errum Manzil palace, The Federal, English news website
K Chandrasekhar Rao plans to demolish the Errum Manzil palace, which is a heritage structure.

A major criticism against the Vaastu-loving Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is that he avoids visiting the Secretariat but prefers to work from his official bungalow “Pragati Bhavan”. All his official review meetings and media interactions, which are few and far between, happen at “Pragati Bhavan”.

A strong believer in astrology and Vaastu principles, KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, feels that the Secretariat, a 25-acre complex overlooking the picturesque Hussainsagar lake in the heart of Hyderabad, is not Vaastu-compliant and must be demolished to remove “Vaastu Dosham”.

Following recommendations from Vaastu advisors, his government has now drawn up plans to tear down all the 10 blocks in the Secretariat and build a new complex at an estimated cost of ₹400 crore. Similarly, a new Assembly complex is also being planned by demolishing a 150-year-old Nizam-era palace at a cost of ₹100 crore.

The foundation stones for both the complexes were laid on June 27. “There is no auspicious muhurtam after this till December,” the Chief Minister had said while unveiling the designs for the two complexes.

Ignoring heritage

The twin projects — Secretariat and Assembly complexes — have raised the hackles of environmentalists and opposition parties as they involve tearing down heritage structures.

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 new Assembly complex. 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 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 to not go ahead with the demolition.

Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, the secretary of the Legal Heirs association of Nawab Fakr-ul-Mulk, recently wrote to the Chief Minister requesting the government to not tear down the palace, saying it is a 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 group 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 a 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.

New Secretariat

On the basis of Vaastu, the northeast corner was chosen at the present Secretariat for the foundation stone laying ceremony.  The government has instructed all the departments to vacate their premises by this month end so that the demolition could begin.

The Saifabad palace built in 1888 by the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahboob Ali Pasha, which is at the centre of the present Secretariat complex, will also 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 drawn up the master plan for the new complex along with renowned Mumbai-based architect Hafeez.

Design of the new Secretariat complex of Telangana, The Federal, English news website.
Design of the new Secretariat complex of Telangana.

“The complex will be 100% Vaastu compliant. It will provide a healthy working environment and there will be a 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.

Judiciary applies brakes

The Telangana High Court on Monday (July 8) directed the state government not to demolish Errum Manzil building until further orders. “As the subject matter is before the court, we expect that the government will respect the oral orders of the court,’’ it said.

The court passed the order in a batch of petitions filed separately seeking direction to the government not to demolish the structure. The government has sought 15 days time to file its counter affidavit.

According to the officials, the new Assembly complex would be modelled on the Parliament House – the iconic circular building at the heart of Delhi built by British architect Edwin Lutyens – with a Central Hall, an assembly, a council, and the legislative secretariat.

Long search

Ever since forming the first government in India’s youngest state in 2014, KCR has been scouting for new locations in the city to build the Secretariat and Assembly.

Initially, he wanted to build both the structures at the Bison Polo grounds in Secunderabad, a property of the Defence Ministry and the city’s best-known green lung space. Despite repeated representations by the Chief Minister, the Centre did not concede his request. He even considered the Chest Hospital at Erragadda, another Nizam-era palace, to build the new structures. However, both the proposals fell flat, following a cold response from the Centre and severe opposition from activists.

The move to build the Secretariat at the existing premises was taken following the recent decision by the Andhra Pradesh government to hand over all the buildings under its control to Telangana. Nearly half of the Secretariat buildings were under the control of Andhra Pradesh following bifurcation.

Under the bifurcation agreement, the AP government was allotted some buildings in Hyderabad, a designated combined capital for the two states for a period of ten years from the date of bifurcation. The buildings, however, were not being used by the Andhra Pradesh government, which shifted its operations to Amaravathi.