New Delhi: The Telangana high court on Monday foiled the state government’s attempts to demolish Errum Mazil, a 150-year-old historic palace to build a new legislative assembly complex in its place.
Pronouncing its decision on a batch of petitions challenging the government’s decision, a division bench of Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Shameem Akhter struck down the state cabinet’s decision on June 18 to demolish the structure. The bench agreed with the petitioners’ argument that Errum Manzil is a heritage site that needs to be protected and called the cabinet’s decision “clearly an arbitrary one”.
“The government has also ignored the fact that the identity and character of a city is defined by its heritage and architecture. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to preserve, conserve and restore the heritage buildings of the cities,” the court’s order said.
The bench said the state government “cannot afford the luxury of forgetting that the destruction of heritage building will rob its people the essence of their identity”.
The order reads:
“While it is important to plan for the future, it is equally important to protect, to preserve and to promote the past. Hence, in the process of taking the decision, the State has ignored various essential provisions of law, essential procedures established by law, the directions issued by this Court, and has overlooked important factors. The said decision is, therefore, clearly an arbitrary one. Thus, the Cabinet decision dated 18.06.2019 is legally unsustainable.”
The high court also said the government ignored a previous it had issued in 2016 directing the government to seek its permission before modifying, demolishing or altering any heritage structure.
The bench also speaks of the structure’s history and says that it represents Hyderabad’s plural culture and traditions. Nawab Fakhrul-Mulk designed and constructed the 150 room palace for his family in 1870. Sprawling over 36 acres and 36 guntas on top of the Erragadda hillock, the palace overlooked the Hussain Sagar lake.
The bench said:
“The word ‘Errum’ means the colour ‘red’ in Telugu and ‘Iram’ means ‘paradise’ in Persian. In order to emphasize the phonetic similarity between the two words, and in order to highlight the commonality of the Hindu and Islamic cultures, Nawab Safdar Jung Musheer-ud-Daula Fakhrul-Mulk named the palace as ‘Iram Manzil’. Originally, the palace was even painted red in order to underline the Telugu word, ‘Erram’.”
The structure also represents the Nawab’s rule and India’s colonial past, the court observed, because the palace “had seen the strengthening of [the] relationship between the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British”. According to historical records, the palace was used to host dinners and lavish events for the British nobility and the British Resident at Hyderabad. “Thus, the building is not only a part of the history of the Nizams of Hyderabad, but is equally a part of the colonial past of our country.” the bench said.
The court also praised the petitioners for their bid to protect the city’s heritage. The proposed demolition of Errum Manzil agitated the people of Hyderabad and forced them to file a petition, the court said. “Proud as people are of their heritage and culture of the beautiful city of Hyderabad, eight Public Interest Litigation (‘PIL’) writ petitions have been filed, challenging the said decision, before this Court,” it said.
Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has been adamant on constructing new legislative assembly and secretariat complexes. After the cabinet decided to demolish Errum Mazil and build a new legislative assembly complex in its place, Rao on June 27 laid the foundation stone for the building, which was expected to cost Rs 100 crore.
Heritage activists and opposition parties criticised the government’s decision. Descendants of Nawab Fakrul Mulk, who had built the palace, also opposed the plans.
After eight petitions were filed against the demolition of Errum Manzil, the Telangana high court on July 8 stayed the government’s plans. The court reserved its order on August 7.
According to reports, the counsel of one of the petitioners, said they had argued that the construction of a new assembly building will also be a waste of public money. The existing building, a palace built by the Nizam, is equipped to meet the requirements, the counsel said. The government had argued that Errum Manzil was removed from the list of heritage structures and that the state needs a new assembly building.