Is new Secretariat plan a ruse to take over lake-view land?

By Kingshuk Nag | THE HANS INDIA |   Sep 14,2017 , 03:23 AM IST


A few months into his chief minister ship, in November 2014, K Chandrashekar Rao had declared that in his vision the Hussain Sagar Lake would be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Hyderabad and that the city could become a front ranking destination with huge high rises and skyscrapers forming a ring around the fabled water body.

The high rises – 60 to 100 stories high- would encompass commercial hubs, corporate offices and entertainment zones. KCR also announced that the government could be helpful by having these buildings constructed and renting them out. The Telangana Chief Minister mentioned the name of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers in this connection giving an indication of his thinking.

Presumably, it is in the pursuit of this grandiose impractical plan that KCR – with stars in his eyes and illusions of grandeur – is seeking to construct a new secretariat for the Telangana government at a new site. The new Secretariat would make way for the fabled high rises which would come up where the state government complex now stands. For the record, however, the Chief Minister has not said that the two plans are inter-connected, but to any casual observer the link seems obvious.   

Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao has been scouting for land for the new dazzling secretariat ever since and after many false starts has now zeroed upon the 30 acres of Bison Polo Ground and another 24 acres at the neighboring Gymkhana Grounds which is located close to the imaginary dividing line between Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

Citizens are up in arms not the least because the coveted grounds are places which host sporting activities and the idea of appropriating green spaces is so revolting to them. The land belongs to the Cantonment, the custodian of which is the defence ministry. Presently, Indian Army uses these grounds. The Hyderabad High Court has now sought a status report from the central government after a few prominent citizens filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the matter.

More importantly, the coveted land stands in the heart of the city. It is barely 2 km from Secunderabad railway station and half km from the old Begumpet airport. As such it is close to one of the two roads that carry bulk traffic from Hyderabad to Secunderabad and beyond. The construction of a new Secretariat is going to throw the entire traffic off track for years and lead to severe jams in an already congested road. This will add to the miseries of denizens who have been bearing the brunt of dislocated traffic courtesy the never-ending metro rail construction.

After the creation of Telangana and bifurcation of the integrated Andhra Pradesh, the government of the residual Andhra Pradesh government has moved out of Hyderabad. This has emptied the existing Secretariat leaving a huge extra space for the Telangana government – whose size is naturally half of the original Andhra Pradesh government. 

For a state that is cash-strapped, the rulers should be wise about how they spend their pennies. A new state does not necessarily mean that a new secretariat complex has to be built. But from day 1, KCR is at his feudal best and is harping on a new swanky Secretariat, not because he wants a new Secretariat but to make the valuable land on which it stands available for high rise commercial complexes.

Soon after he came to power he mooted the proposal to build a new secretariat at the location of the TB hospital at SR Nagar in the city. The hospital was proposed to be shifted to a nearby district and full use was proposed to be made of its existing large sprawling campus. The idea was, however, given up – possibly with the belated realisation that SR Nagar was a densely populated area and a new complex there would create more problems there than it would solve. 

After some time, a proposal was mooted to build the new Secretariat complex at the iconic Parade Grounds in Secunderabad. How the honorable Chief Minister got this idea remains a mystery because these are the grounds where functions are held during Independence Day. In fact, Parade Grounds are one of the largest green spaces in a city that is losing green cover at an alarming rate. The Parade Grounds, in fact, is also defence controlled land (those with sense of history would know that Secunderabad was conceived as a British military cantonment to provide cover to the Nizams of Hyderabad). 

The Bison Polo Ground (and the adjacent Gymkhana Land) is the latest in the series. But this time, KCR is more serious: he has obtained in –principle approval (or so he claims) from the Defence Ministry and has unveiled grand plans of the Secretariat that he will build. The Secretariat will be reconstructed along with the assembly building (which will be created with replication of the Nizam era façade in the original building).

A separate Kala Bhavan, for arts and culture, will be part of the complex to be built. At a press conference lately, KCR announced that part of the land will be used to build an express highway that will connect the road leading to northern Telangana. This seems to be a way to obfuscate the real issue and club a highway expansion plan along with that of building new government offices.

Naturally, there was no mention of the costs that will be defrayed in building this new office complex.  When KCR was asked about the destruction of sporting facilities as a result of this plan, a nonchalant Chief Minister said that there were 500 more sporting grounds in the city and also said that the Gachibowli sports stadium was being used for activities other than sport. KCR, of course, is well-known for making wild statements. Shortly after he came to power, KCR had announced that the land on which the Race Course stands would be taken over and converted into an educational hub. Nothing came of the plan, however. 

KCR’s latest plan, however, cannot be implemented without a nod from the Defence Ministry, although he is seeking to grant alternative land of equal size outside the city to the defence establishment to make up for their loss.

Nirmala Sitharaman, the Raksha Mantri – who knows Hyderabad rather well, having stayed in the city for two decades before moving to Delhi – can pour cold water over the plan by refusing to part with this valuable land.  This, of course, will not be a guarantee that KCR will give up his vision for a central lake business district. It is just that the search for an alternative land for a new Secretariat would take longer and could bring it close to the next assembly elections.

What Nirmala Sitharaman does remain to be seen, but KCR’s grand plan only demonstrates that his is a feudal mind. Traditionally, Telangana along with Maharashtra are two states where farmers’ suicides are the highest. This would mean that the peasantry is in acute distress. Instead of focusing hundred per cent of his energy on trying to alleviate their misery, it is preposterous that he can conjure up such grand plans.

Actually, KCR gave a peek into his mind the moment he built a palatial residence for himself, ironically called Pragati Bhavan with 150 rooms at a cost of Rs 400 crore. According to sections of the press, the building has bullet proof toilets! The new opulent building was constructed even though a huge Chief Minister’s residence complex existed from before. Needless to add it was built at record speed. 

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