Efforts on to save a heritage building

Efforts on to save a heritage building

Bifurcation blues in Andhra Pradesh Secretariat

Efforts on to save a heritage building

A team from Rajasthan will examine whether the structure can be repaired or not. The dilapidated building in the middle of Andhra Pradesh Secretariat on the banks of Hussainsagar, which is considered an eyesore among other modern blocks, is in the throes of demolition.

The erstwhile “Saifabad” Palace that once stood alone on a hillock has undergone several repairs and housed offices of important people like former Chief Minister N T Rama Rao could now be demolished to create parking space for the make-shift Secretariat for Seemandhra or the residual Andhra Pradesh.

The historic building was constructed by the 6th Nizam Mahaboob Ali Pasha in 1888. It was named the Saifabad Palace after the locality--Saifabad. In 1941, the department of Finance and Public Works was shifted to the Saifabad Palace. The building stood as the centre of administration of the Government of Hyderabad.

The palace portion housed the powerful general administration department (GAD) which included the office of the chief minister and the chief secretary, besides a couple of other departments, the library, a post office and archives of the Secretariat.

Many prime ministers of the erstwhile Nizam era, like Maharaj Krishna Pershad, Sir Ali Imam, Sur Akbar Hyder, Nawab of Chattari and Mirza Ismail functioned from the building, which was the centre of administration even after police action in 1948.  Even Bakle, ICS, from Maharashtra operated from this building as a chief administrator under military government. Even his successor M K Velodi, ICS, discharged his duties from the same place.

The designated Andhra Pradesh chief minister Burgula Ramkrishna Rao functioned from this building from 1952. Subsequently, this building was used by chief ministers, home ministers and by the GAD. Since 1946, after the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the building continued to be a centre of administration for many chief ministers.

Former chief secretary Narendra Luther says that the demolition will remove another historic landmark from the city. “It is worth reflecting that after the integration of Hyderabad with the Indian Union, we have not constructed a single building we could be proud of. On the other hand, there is no count of buildings which we have, or allowed to be, demolished  like the Diwan Deodhi, the Bashirbagh Palace, the Mahboob Mansion, the Khilwat and now Asman Garb Palace and the Saifabad Palace.”

The map available with the survey office indicated that “G” Block as “Finance Office”. The map was the first set of maps of Hyderabad City drawn in a fully scientific cartographic method, available in printed sheets in the scale of 400 feet to an inch.

The “G” Block is the only surviving building at present out of the several old buildings in the Secretariat of Nizam's days. It is a two-storey large building with an annexe to the south. It is built in classical European style with grand semi-circular arches, imposing arched-portico on the North, composite as well as Corinthian columns and pilasters on the façade deep cornices and parapets --all represent a typical building style prevalent in late 19th century Hyderabad.

It has deep verandahs, high ceilings, thick exterior made of stone, granite and lime. Its cool interiors minimises the need for air-conditioners. Therefore, an energy-efficient building must be preserved even as per energy conservation principles. The main load bearing structure of the building does not show any signs of structural damage. The building's exterior puts up a show of poor upkeep, apparently a result of deliberate neglect caused by intent and talks about its imminent demolition.

Interestingly, the Government will have to pay nothing for the demolition since it has received Rs 60 lakh from a firm under an agreement to allow it to cart away the useful material such as furniture, doorways and wooden beams, said to have been procured by the Nizam from Burma.

Vintage lift

The most valuable part of the structure is the vintage lift, a classic piece. Successive chief ministers, especially NTR, took a fancy to it. Another masterpiece, which the contractors will be proud to possess, is the massive teak staircase connecting the two floors. “It is in such a good shape that it can be straightway used for another building of the same size.

Similarly, the beams supporting the roof are long enough to meet the wood requirements of a huge building,” says an official
Vedakumar of  Forum for Better Hyderabad, fighting for the Saifabad Palace for over a decade, argues that any building may become unfit for use in its current state if neglected over a protracted period of time. In spite of non-maintenance, the “G” Block is structurally sound. The alleged concern of the government's own departmental engineers about the safety of the building cannot be the final word on the subject.

Following the efforts by NGOs, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh has already dismissed a petition by the government seeking demolition. Subsequently, the Andhra Pradesh Government, through the GAD Principal Secretary, has given an assurance that the building will not be demolished.

In a recent development, a team of experts from Rajasthan has been entrusted to study the 126-year-old heritage structure, and report whether it could be preserved or not. Governor’s advisor Salauddin Ahmed, Special Chief Secretary (Tourism) Chandana Khan and other officers visited unused “G” Block at Secretariat.

The need to demolish the “G” Block arose as the H-South Block in the Secretariat was proposed to be allocated to the chief minister of residuary Andhra Pradesh.  Intelligence officials have examined the need to demolish the “G” Block for security reasons and also for providing parking space for Andhra Pradesh Secretariat after June 2,  the appointed day for bifurcation of the state and carving out of Telangana.

Following this, the Governor’s advisor inspected the site and decided to invite experts from Rajasthan to suggest some measures to be taken on the structure. “We are not in a hurry to take any decision on the “G” Block. The team from Rajasthan will examine whether it can be repaired or not. They will also examine whether it can be restored or not. The government will take a decision on the structure. We are not in a hurry,” says Salauddin Ahmed.

Meanwhile, representatives of Forum For A Better Hyderabad called on Governor’s advisor AN Roy and submitted a memorandum to him not to
demolish the “G” Block.