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Chequered past


The Gandhi Medical College building with its striking Regional Mughal Variation was built in 1890 for the supervision and maintenance of the Basheer Bagh Palace and later housed the City Improvement Board

FOR NIZAMIAN Hyderabad, the 20th century began on a disastrous note. First there were the "Great Musi Floods" in September 1908 that wreaked havoc claiming hundreds of lives and rendering thousands of people homeless. Just when the citizens were recovering from the shock of losing their near and dear and picking up the threads of life, tragedy struck again in the form of a deadly plague in 1911. The scale of the catastrophe was such that there was a dramatic decrease in the city's population in the following census.

The benevolent Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, who had just occupied the masnad (throne), was not oblivious to the suffering of his subjects. The Nizam consulted with his ministers, high officials and city planners. They all thought something drastic needed to be done to develop the city, with special emphasis on improving sanitation and hygiene.

A brain storming session resulted in the formation of the City Improvement Board (CIB) in 1912 with the Nizam's son, Moazzam Jah as the President and members drawn from different departments. The mandate was to bring about planned development of the city, the specific tasks being improvement of slums, housing for poor, acquiring open lands, underground drainage, Pathergatti road widening scheme and laying roads enabling plying of buses. In tune with the Nizam's thinking of getting the best talent to Hyderabad, a few years later, the services of Sir Visveswarayya were requisitioned, for further improvement of the city.

With the agenda in place, a search was on for a centrally located building to house the CIB headquarters. The search ended at this beautiful building in the rare Regional Mughal Variation (RMV) style of architecture at Basheer Bagh, now listed for protection. Owned by Paigahs and built in 1890, for supervision and maintenance of the Basheer Bagh Palace (unfortunately neither the palace nor the bagh exists anymore though the name is still in use) and later to administer royal palaces, the CIB building became the hub of urban development of Hyderabad, for well over four decades.

The CIB building that was later allotted to the newly set up Gandhi Medical College in 1954 stands testimony to the varied architectural tastes of the Nawabs. It was not always European, though it formed a dominant theme. Breaking the monotony they often came up with mixed styles borrowing Mughal and Rajasthani features. Cusped arches, five in a row, standing symmetrically on short ornamented pillars, intricate brackets supporting the chajja form the impressive Mughal facade.

The staircase leads to a corridor and into a high ceiling hall, which in its heyday was full of stucco. Two special features of the building are the rectangular kiosks with domical cupolas that decorate the corners of the parapet and the perforated screens exquisitely rendered in lime-mortar on the back, almost resembling the marble one, the hallmark of Mughal architecture.

It was from this building that the CIB set about changing the face of Hyderabad, making it a city not just of fairy tale palaces, devdis and havelis, but also of elaborate gardens, planned housing colonies, filtered piped drinking water supply, underground drainage with separate storm water drain, wide roads, bus and train services, much before many of the major cities of the country. Amazing as it may sound, Hyderabad had top class facilities, several decades before N. Chandrababu Naidu came up with his dream offers for the city.

"The beautiful building reflected the massive effort made by the CIB, in clearing slums and rehabilitating people and widening roads. One such colony at Dabeerpura was offered for a monthly rent of one rupee. The Board headed by the Prince, had members drawn from all departments and all sections, to take spot decisions and perfect coordination. All works were planned and executed meticulously as seen in the detailed annual reports presented by the Prince to the Nizam," recounts 74-year-old Dhiraj Dangoria. His father, Chandulal C. Dangoria, was the Superintending Engineer of the CIB, all through the major works, it had executed. Dangoria has a rare collection of all the annual reports from 1914 to 1946.

The slum improvement was carried on along the Musi riverbank, Sultan Shahi, Mughalpura, Nampally and Gunfoundry and the colonies built still exist at Red Hills, Mallepally and Dabeerpura. Not merely urban infrastructure, credit goes to the CIB for constructing a string of public buildings that speaks volumes of its farsightedness, architecture and planning. These include Nizamia Tibbi Hospital at Charminar, Pathergatti commercial cum residential complex, Moazzam Jahi Market, the Musi river front buildings like the High Court, Osmania Hospital and the City College. The architecture genre of domes and arches it made use of came to be known as CIB or the Osmanian style.

The CIB and the Town Improvement Trust were later merged to form the Andhra Pradesh Housing Board and the building was handed over to the Gandhi Medical College. With the College now shifting to the new building at the erstwhile Mushirabad Jail campus, it is now with the Tourism department, which, as usual has grandiose plans, putting a question mark on the survival of the building.

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