A pit about four and a half feet deep has been dug in the lawns on the northeast corner of the Secretariat complex in Hyderabad. That is where Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao will lay the foundation stone on Thursday for a new secretariat that he wants to build at an estimated cost of Rs 400 crore. The northeast corner was chosen on basis of vaastu.
A petition arguing that the Chief Minister cannot bring down sturdy buildings just for vaastu reasons, will come up in court on Friday.
The chief minister, though, is pushing ahead with the groundbreaking ceremony, saying Thursday is an auspicious day and if he misses that, the wait will be long for the next "good muhurat".
Mr Rao has said his government plans to bring down all 10 blocks in the Secretariat complex that sprawls over 25 acres. By July, he wants every office shifted out, so the demolition could begin.
Many citizens were relieved that he has given up plans to take over Bison Polo Gymkhana Grounds to build a new secretariat. The Chief Minister says that plan was made as then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, was not willing to give up the blocks allotted to his state.
"Now that Jaganmohan Reddy has handed over all the buildings, we will raze everything and build a modern office complex, with 6-7 lakh square feet of space, at a cost of 400 crore rupees,'' he said.
In 2016, a petition filed by Congress leader Jeevan Reddy challenged the Chief Minister's proposal to demolish the Secretariat complex after he publicly said its vaastu was not good.
The state government, however, told the court that the reason they wanted a new building was because of concerns about fire safety and structural stability.
The Advocate General declared in court that till the case was adjudicated, there would be no move to demolish any Secretariat building.
Heritage activists are now upset that two Nizam era palaces have to go to make way for the new assembly building and the secretariat.
One of them is located inside the Secretariat complex that served as the Chief Minister's office during the time of NT Rama Rao. The other is Errum Manzil, built in 1870.
Neither are in good condition. Activists have gone to court and say these buildings have been neglected and should be conserved.
"Hyderabad has a unique history and buildings like this are not there in any other part of the country. It is part of my heritage, the citizens should have a say in whether it can be brought down, '' says INTACH activist Anuradha Reddy.
The Chief Minister has said Errum Manzil, after which a nearby Metro station has been named, will be the location of a new assembly building.
It 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 and a council and the legislative secretariat. That is expected to cost about 100 crore rupees.
Critics say it is possible to renovate the old buildings instead of tearing them down.
"It is about priorities. When this building can work for another 50 years, why bring it down? Instead, spend the money on, say, the Osmania General Hospital that is awaiting renovation for the last 10 years," said architect Sankaranarayanan. "At one-fourth of the cost, the Old Secretariat can be renovated to reflect Telangana ethos and make it modern too,'' he added.
Policy analyst Mohan Guruswamy said the Chief Minister should build a new secretariat outside the city where land is easily available, so it can serve as an engine of economic growth. "Why crowd the already crowded area inside the city? You can plan for the future, just like in New Raipur in Chattisgarh,'' he said.
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