Recent developments have thrown light on the pathetic state of healthcare as well as heritage monuments in the city. While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weak links in the public healthcare system, Hyderabad's old nemesis, the southwest monsoon once again rained down misery on unsuspecting Hyderabadis. In the past few weeks, Hyderabad has witnessed quite a few freak incidents, a chajja of the Khilwat clocktower came crashing down on the road due to heavy downpour and the passerby had a near miss. The age-old Secretariat building was demolished amid a pandemic on a war-footing after the Telangana High Court gave a green signal to demolition, in which we lost the Saifabad Palace forever. The entire Saifabad-Khairtabad area was cordoned off and the demolition was started without allowing any intervention whatsoever. The absolute swiftness of the move, from the decision to commencement of demolition took place within 3 days. In another freak incident, the wards of the historic Osmania General Hospital were flooded after just an hour of rain. Horrific visuals poured in (no pun intended) from the insides of the once-glorious Nizam era building, with patient beds lying in inpatient wards which turned into a cesspool, patients and kin wading through knee-deep water in the corridors, the main entrance turned into a cascading waterfall of rainwater. The incident triggered outrage among the citizens as well as heritage enthusiasts. There was a meltdown on social platforms by doctors, citizens and activists. One week since the inundation of Telangana’s biggest government healthcare facility, the authorities have decided to seal the old block of the hospital indefinitely. The patients have been shifted to new blocks and all operations have been suspended from the old block. This decision comes a day after doctors of the hospital had protested for building a new hospital by demolishing the old structure.
Telangana orders abandonment of Osmania General Hospital amid COVID19 pandemic.
Osmania Hospital was constructed on the site of Afzal Gunj Hospital, which was home to the Hyderabad Chloroform Commissions. After the Great Musi Floods of 1908, the City Improvement Board strived to provide Hyderabad with public healthcare matching universal standards. The current heritage block of the Osmania General Hospital was designed by Architect Vincent Jerome Etsch and the construction was finished in 1919. The building is the icon of Osmanian architecture, resembling the Indo-Saracenic trend of the time. Since the design was completed in the aftermath of a devastating deluge, the new construction was designed to handle future floodings of the Musi. Though the Musi was tamed by dams, Vincent Etsch would not have dreamt in his wildest dreams that subsequent governments would add layers of cement over the drains of his lovely hospital.
The reason Osmania is dying a slow and painful death is that governments have consistently overlooked it and it fell into disrepair. The wards were plastered over with vitrified tiles and many unplanned developments took place in and around the building. Basic maintenance like clearing vegetation, filling cracks, waterproofing roof, clearing of drains and chimneys, fixing leakages etc would not have cost the authorities a fortune and yet keep the structure at its original strength. But the root cause of the problem is not in the hospital itself but in its surrounds. In Hyderabad city, the population density has increased many folds in the past decades and unplanned development in the city has given birth to a very dense concrete jungle. This has resulted in zero absorption of rainwater in the ground. The encroachments over water bodies have caused inundation of residential layouts in various parts of the city during monsoon. Surface runoff that previously had flown into the Musi without any obstructions is now trapped inside colonies, inundating them for days. Unfortunately, Osmania Hospital has now met the same fate. This move has worried heritage enthusiasts and activists as the parallels can be clearly drawn between the Secretariat demolition and the sealing of old block of Osmania Hospital. Once the building is out of reach for the common folk, anything that happens later is unquestionable. While the plans to demolish Osmania have been in the news since the formation of the new state in 2014, the decision was reversed after backlash.
According to the government, the structure of the building was deemed weak and the only feasible option for the building was to demolish it. INTACH Hyderabad and TSMIDC carried out studies of the structure and concluded that demolition was not required and the structure was found to be stable.
The report by INTACH says:
“The existing Heritage Building Block of Osmania General Hospital is in a very good structurally stable condition, without any threat to its own life or to that of its occupants, provided regular maintenance and repairs are carried out properly.”
“The proposal to expand the existing hospital building and infrastructure can be easily accommodated by re-planning and re-organizing many other smaller and temporary structures and without having to demolish the Heritage Blocks of the Osmania General Hospital. There is no visible problem with the foundation and walls, the outer surface plaster and ceiling plaster is affected by various reasons primarily due to water seepage and can be repaired easily. Walls are thick are designed with adequate structural margins and are not endangered with the raking of surface plaster or loss of painting etc.”
The report submitted by JNTU (Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University) itself recognizes the heritage value of the structure and has advised repairs. The report also provides with details on repair methodology of corroded RCC members and other elements. THE REPORT DOES NOT SUGGEST ANY MAJOR STRUCTURAL DAMAGES OR PROPOSES DEMOLITIONS.
In case the authorities decide to demolish the heritage building, here are a few reasons why the building should be spared:
It is an architectural masterpiece of the Nizam era, one of the grandest structures and one of its kind. It is an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture indigenous to Hyderabad, it represents the confluence of multiple ethnicities and faiths in the city. Its adaptation of various elements represents Hyderabad truly as the melting pot of rich culture it is.
The legacy of the building and the establishment is deeply rooted in Hyderabad and its culture. Demolishing it would be stripping Hyderabad of its proud cultural icons. The building is also a part of medical history as well as that of Hyderabad, being one of the first hospitals providing breakthroughs in healthcare in Hyderabad State back then.
The authorities must come up with a detailed plan before taking any step towards demolition or making any changes to the structure. All that the hospital building needs is an immediate scientific restoration like that of the Qutb Shahi Tombs.
It is currently the largest healthcare facility and a significant number of the population rely on the building, the demolition would do more harm than good in the current situation. Experts have said that restoration of the structure would cost significantly lesser than demolishing the complex structure and its thick walls.
As the New Secretariat has already eaten up 400 crores of the State fund, it is not wise to demolish an important building when it can be restored at a fraction of the cost of building a new super speciality hospital.
A new hospital is desperately needed, but not at the cost of our heritage, not at the cost of our identity. For the sake of what is left of our heritage, save Osmania.
Save Our Osmania.