It was a bumper year for Telangana heritage as the 800-year-old Ramappa Temple made it to the elite group of world heritage sites listed by UNESCO . Matching that development was the tag of best world tourism village for Pochampally on the outskirts of Hyderabad. There was some movement on documentation of Hyderabad’s Qutb Shahi heritage to make a case at UNESCO for the heritage city tag.
But beyond these marquee developments, it’s been a year of lows for Hyderabad’s 500-year-old heritage. The questions that dogged heritage watchers were more mundane: Will the Osmania General Hospital be demolished? Will the Nampally Serai be demolished? Will the Mahbub Mansion be razed?
These were some of the questions raised by citizens of Hyderabad in 2021 as heritage became relegated to the margins of political thinking. The discourse was set in motion by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, who stepped into OGH, sat down, and said, “Lives are more important than heritage”, alluding to demolition of Hyderabad’s oldest hospital building that has now been abandoned citing fears about its stability.
It forced civic groups to step in and prove the structural stability of the building as well as the scope for constructing a new hospital on the land behind the heritage site.
Ray of hope
Amidst the gloom, there was a ray of hope as a few ‘baolis’ (stepwells) in the city got a new lease of life, thanks to the intervention of the Municipal Administration and Urban Development ministry in the State.
While place names like Doodhbowli, Badibowli, and Rethibowli have been part of the city’s topography, they have all but disappeared. This effort by Hyderabad Design Forum gave an element of hope. If the stepwell at Bansilalpet is in the process of being cleaned up before restoration, the stepwell at Bapughat has been restored and looks spanking new. Another well that has been cleaned and restored is at Gachibowli.
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Inside the inner core of the city, the Kali Kaman arch is being restored by the civic body by clearing it of encroachments. “We have a plan to restore the three other arches if we can clear the encroachments. One of the arches has a kitchen and a puja room inside,” said an official, who is part of the restoration effort. “Any conservation/restoration or development on or near an HMDA listed heritage site should have a clearance from the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC). But, we still don’t have HCC with the mandated qualification for the members,” says historian Sajjad Shahid dismissing the notion of scientific conservation effort on the arches.
It was a year of another scare as the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) threatened to withdraw from its conservation effort at the Qutb Shahi Tombs Complex due to a series of litigations to stop the interpretation centre that enhances the experience at heritage sites. But, thanks to the intervention of State government officials, the AKTC is continuing its effort at the site and the city even hosted a jazz concert and a Sufi event at the location.
Another ray of hope has been the Telangana High Court, which tried to monitor the Ramappa Temple to ensure it conforms to the norms set out by the UN body for a comprehensive conservation management plan. It has been the judiciary that has been responsible for providing a semblance of protection to Hyderabad’s heritage from the never-ending need for real estate.