Why not save Secretariat building?

HYDERABAD Nov. 1. The State Government's decision to pull down the century-old magnificent classical European style building (G Block) inside Secretariat has been received with shock by the heritage and conservation activists, who are describing the action as a case of fence eating the crop.

What else can one say when the Government resorts to such action, fumed the activists. If one typical building symbolising the rich tapestry of the built heritage of Hyderabad cannot be protected by the Government on its own campus, the nerve centre of administration, the fate of many such structures could well be imagined. Once again it showed how hollow is the Government's talk of showcasing "our rich heritage" for visitors and tourists to savour.

"I feel very sad," was how the former Chief Secretary Shravan Kumar, who is also the convenor of the Andhra Pradesh Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage (INTACH), commented. All through his tenure as Chief Secretary, Mr. Kumar preferred to stay on in this building." It had that regal touch and the place was very inspiring to work in".

The demolition, coming as it does in total disregard of the INTACH's appeal to the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary, has again brought into focus the issue of listing of heritage buildings, their maintenance and the fate of unlisted buildings. The INTACH wanted the building to be conserved, as it is the only surviving building of its kind inside Secretariat lending that old world charm to a campus otherwise filled with modern buildings. Located strategically in a central place, it could be turned into an architectural showpiece, a symbol of how majestic the office buildings were in the years gone by.

Built in late 19th century, the two-storied high roofed building has massive semi-circular arches and openings typifying pure European architectural style, an unusually large portico and a wooden stairway peeling off in two directions leading to the first floor. The building rests on huge composite Corinthian and ionic columns, massive Burma teak beams and iron girders brought from Birmingham, UK. It is one of the three buildings in Secretariat that finds a mention in the Hyderabad Municipal Survey Map of September 1915. While this building was the Finance Office of the NorAm's Secretariat, the two others, already demolished, were the "Private and Political Secretariat" and Public Works Department.

Yes, the building was not listed for protection and it is indeed a glaring omission. But who would think that a historical building in Government's own custody would be brought down mercilessly one day. Even otherwise, should a Government go by such mere technicalities? And what is the message it was sending outside to the private owners of architectural marvels?

The conservationists rubbish the other theory that the building has become structurally weak and unsafe. Who is responsible? Is it not Roads and Buildings department's job to maintain it? They cite the example of how the same department issued a similar "unsafe certificate" against the residential quarters of the Governor at Raj Bhavan, sometime ago, when a portion of the cement plaster unimaginatively stuck on to the jack arched ceiling of limestone, came down. Despite getting injured in the mishap, the then Governor, S. Rangarajan, did not buy this theory. He summoned two conservation architects and, after consulting them, suggested giving the repair works to ACC Conservation Wing. It made a thorough job and the heritage building survived. Something similar could be done to this Secretariat building to show that the Government too has sense of history and values heritage.

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