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Cure worse than disease

Cure worse than disease
Highlights

Cure worse than disease. The proposed demolition of Osmania General Hospital building with the purpose of reconstructing twin towers is assuming political overtones.

The proposed demolition of Osmania General Hospital building with the purpose of reconstructing twin towers is assuming political overtones. The TRS opposed Metro Rail at many places like Sultan Bazaar, assembly as it passed through heritage structures.

The TRS government has even called for revision of the earlier plans for Metro Rail to protect heritage structures. Surprisingly, the same party and the government is now taking such a scant look at the issue of preserving the heritage monuments in the city that had four centuries of glorious history.

Across the world, the trend is to reconcile between development and preservation of heritage. But the attempts to undermine heritage in the name of development obviously triggered political storm.

A government that has come owing to a struggle for a separate state centred around the unique cultural identity of Telangana cannot take such a stand of trivialising the protection of heritage.

Deputy Chief Minister of Telangana Mahmood Ali has even remarked that spending Rs 100 crore on the maintenance of ancient structures or turning them into museums would be a futile exercise.

Adding insult to the injury, he said if Charminar becomes weak, it too would be demolished. Such an unwarranted reference to a structure that brought the state capital international name and fame is highly unwarranted and shortsighted.

Such a casual approach to heritage structures symbolise a public policy disaster. It‘s high time that the government comes clean on the matter and reviews its policy on conservation of heritage buildings in this rich state of Telangana.

The heritage building cannot be viewed as a normal construction. Many of them are marvels of architecture. They symbolise the culture, heritage and history of a particular place and periods. Destroying this heritage is nothing but disowning and defacing the history of Hyderabad.

At a time when tourism is a growth industry, demolition of heritage structures would also deprive the city and the state an economic dividend too. The first law on preservation and protection of ancient and historical monuments was enacted in Sweden in 1666.

The United Kingdom enacted first Ancient Monuments Protection Act in 1882. France did so in 1913. The earliest Japanese legislation, the Law for the Preservation of Ancient Temples and Shrines, was enacted in 1897 and the United States Federal Antiquities Act came into force in 1906.

In 1821, Mexico passed the first law to preserve and protect the country's archaeological heritage. In the same year, Peru shook itself free from Spanish rule and in 1822 a Supreme Decree was published, forbidding any trade in ancient relics.

New antiquities laws were enacted in Denmark, Greece, and the United Kingdom in the 1930s. Two major statutes, covering the protection of the cultural and natural heritage respectively, were promulgated in Italy even by the Fascist regime just before the outbreak of World War II. A 1927 law covers the cultural heritage of Bolivia.

In India, the legal regime dates back to 18th century. The Governments of Bengal, Hyderabad, Madras and Mysore enacted similar laws. The Article 49 in the Directive Principles of State Policy, makes it obligatory for the State to protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historic interest… from spoliation, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal or export, as the case may be.

In K Guruprasad Rao versus State of Karnataka and others , (2013), the Supreme Court has rightly observed, “the protection of ancient monuments has necessarily to be kept in mind while carrying out development activities.

The need for ensuring protection and preservation of the ancient monuments for the benefit of future generations has to be balanced with the benefits which may accrue from… development related activities. “

Therefore, one would certainly appreciate the efforts of Telangana government to shift the hospital to set up much better facilities. In fact, Chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao deserves special compliments for personally monitoring the facilities at a premier government hospital now in a miserable state.

But, the moot point is should this be at the cost of a heritage building that needs to be preserved for future generations to know that this city had such a facility way back in the history. Leave alone demolition of a heritage building, courts have even emphasized on preserving the heritage structures even while undertaking repair works.

In The Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage vs The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority on 29 April, 2010, the Madras High Court has categorically stated that the Government should issue rules to prevent persons from undertaking any repair even under the name of renovation of heritage buildings without seeking the necessary approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee.

The UNESCO's Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage defines "cultural heritage" to include monuments, architectural works, works of monumental sculptures etc. Article 4 of the Convention requires every State Party to ensure identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission of the cultural heritage to future generations.

It’s rather surprising that the authorities are citing the availability of land, funds for retaining the Osmania General Hospital building while constructing modern facilities. A city‘s land use policy and planning should incorporate the adequate space for heritage and history. Otherwise the city would be lifeless.

In fact, hundreds of acres of government land got alienated over the decades . Even today vacant government lands face a similar threat. The governments even sell their land to garner resources. The often given argument is that there is no need to retain so much land with the government.

Even international and national funding is available to preserve heritage buildings. Corporates can be roped in to undertake such efforts under Corporate Social Responsibility.

As directed by the Madras High Court with regard to Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, the government should immediately list out the historical monuments and heritage buildings in the city along with an appraisal of their present status.

The heritage buildings in Hyderabad like OGH have suffered historical neglect. The OGH was not maintained like the Assembly building. The reason is simple the former caters to the poor and the vulnerable. But, this historic neglect cannot justify wrong measures like demolition.

Writing in Seminar magazine, Faith Singh, Trustee, Jaipur Virasat Foundation, said, in conservation it is said that benign neglect is preferable to wrong intervention… The management of culture and cultural assets including historic built environment is too specialised and idiosyncratic for government administrators to decide on and deliver.

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