Hyderabad: Appeal made to Telangana HC against Victoria Zenana’s demolition

Hyderabad: Eminent personality and historian from the city Sajjad Shahid in a letter appealed to the Telangana High Court against demolishing the historic Victoria Zenana building, which falls under the HC premises. On Friday, Shahid and other activists held a meeting to explain the heritage building’s historical value, and the way forward with regard to saving it from demolition.

Shahid’s letter comes just days after a letter dated April 15 from the High Court’s Registrar was found granting administrative sanction for dismantling ‘H-Block High Court Legal Services Committee building, dog canal and the structures abutting the same’ for the construction of a multi-level car parking. The order was issued based on a writ petition (no. 735 of 2023) seeking more parking space in the Telangana High Court premises. It essentially also includes demolition of the Zenana buiding.

“We need to Stand up and say enough is enough. The stakeholders should be in the process as it is our heritage. The Victoria Zenana building was founded in 1906 and it became functional in 1908. The city and the building was subject to one of the worst floods months after it came into use. While all surroundings were washed away, this is the only one that survived. One of the most famous poets from Hyderabad, Amjad Hyderabadi, wrote a poignant poem about the flood,” said Sajjad Shahid at a meeting and press conference that was held with regard to saving the structure at Lamakaan on Friday.

“In one of the passages, Amjad says how he was washed away and how he witnessed the deaths of his wife and daughter, and how was rescued the women at who were then at the Victoria Zenana. What else can embody the spirit and the resilience that these ladies showed in that moment? The best in the people of Hyderabad came out in the worst. That is why it is important,” Shahid added. He was referring to the Musi river floods of September 1908, during which Hyderabad witnessed a lot of destruction and death.

An archival image of the Zanana building. (Image: By arrangement)

The Victoria Zenana building in fact is one of the heritage structures that was built during the reign of Mahboob Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad (1869-1911). It is one of the markers of the city’s built heritage before Hyderabad was modernized and rebuilt by the seventh and last Nizam Osman Ali Khan (1911-1948) after the Musi river flood 1908. Ironically, the Telangana High Court is part of the modern buildings constructed as part of that modernisation by the last Nizam.

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Shahid, in his letter to the Telangana High Court’s chief justice also pointed out that the prayer in writ petition No. 735 that sought a multi-level parking area in the court premises, had no mention or did not call for demolishing the Victoria Zenana Hospital. “Neither petitioner nor her counsel were present when the case was called,” he said, and added that the High Court court bench was assisted by the special government pleader who produced two government orders according administrative sanction of funds for construction of multistoried car parking blocks.

“There is a Qutb Shahi era fountain in the endangered area. It is unclear what is going to be its fate,” Sajjad Shahid also said, about the fountain which goes back to around the time when Hyderabad was founded by Mohd Quli Qutb Shah, the fourth ruler of the Golconda dynasty (1518-1687).

More importantly, Shahid also said that no written permission was obtained from the vice-chairman of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) to demolish the Zenana hospital into a multi-storied facility, as required by law. He was alluding to the fact that the structure, being a heritage site, is protected by law. “In fact, no consultation with the heritage conservation committee could even have taken place prior to the decision of demolition and redevelopment as the said committee’s term expired in 2013 and it has not been reconstituted despite the directions of the Hon’ble High Court in two separate judgements.”

A Munn map of the Zenana building. (Image: By arrangement)

It may be noted that is was also easy for the state government to issue such orders as the victoria Zenana building was denotified from the state’s list of protected monuments in 2010 via government order No. 47.

“A Heritage Building or Heritage Precinct is so notified, as regulation 13 itself suggests, because of its action historical, aesthetic, architectural or cultural value. The converse logically follows in the case of the notification which can only be if such distinct values are lost for for exceptional reasons. It can never be that the building can be de-notified because its original use has been discontinued, or it is in a bad state of repair, or there is a pressing need for alternative use such as car parking,” stated Shahid in his letter to the High Court chief justice.