Hyderabad: The shortage of beds amid the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing governments around the world to judiciously use the infrastructure available with them. But in Telangana, the government is in the process of razing down its old secretariat in Hyderabad due to Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s ‘obsession’ with Vastu and number ‘6’.
Earlier this month, the KCR government began the demolition process of the old secretariat — a 150-year-old Nizam-era palace called Errum Manzil — even as critics say that this isn’t the time to bring down the complex, especially as the state is facing a severe Covid situation.
But this hasn’t deterred KCR. He is known to take decisions, political or personal, only after consulting astrologers and Vastu specialists. Whether it’s his convoy that comprises six vehicles, or his decision to dissolve his government on 6 December 2018 and announce fresh elections, there are several examples of his showing his beliefs.
He is now going through with a move he had been planning for years. When he came to power in 2014, Vastu experts advised KCR that the old secretariat complex had “Vastu-Dosha”. Since then he has been averse to working out of the secretariat and operates from Pragati Bhavan, his official residence.
The Vastu of the old complex created an air of negativity inside the old secretariat, said Vastu experts working closely with the government.
There are apparently two major Vastu ‘defects’ in the old building.
The entrance of the building from the Tank Bund side is south facing, meaning it’s not Vastu-compliant. Former chief minister N.T. Rama Rao was asked to use another entrance for this reason, said sources. The second issue, according to Vastu experts advising the government, was that the C-block should have been facing north or east.
The sources said KCR was told that every CM who worked out of the old secretariat faced some hurdle — be it N.T. Rama Rao who was overthrown by N. Chandrababu Naidu, or Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy who died in a plane crash.
Now, the new “Covid-free” complex, which is set to finish construction next year at an estimated cost of Rs 500 crore, will be Vastu-compliant. The new complex will have six floors and KCR’s office will be on the sixth.
“It’s just not about Vastu alone. This will be a grand building that will be like an administrative super bazaar. People can get all their government work done in one big campus,” Ashok Tankasala, advisor to the Telangana chief minister, told ThePrint.
The new secretariat will house all the government departments and offices in one place. KCR has a dream of a huge, magnificent, all-encompassing secretariat. The old secretariat did not have fire safety measures in place or adequate parking. Most of the directorates of the government were scattered all over the city, Tankasala said.
Not the time for this ‘superstition’, says opposition
The Opposition blamed ‘superstition’ on the part of the chief minister for the move. Congress MP Revanth Reddy alleged that Rao is determined to building a new secretariat as he believed that none of the sons of the 16 CMs who ruled undivided Andhra Pradesh succeeded them due to the old secretariat.
“KCR is worried that if the old secretariat existed, his son K.T. Rama Rao will never get a chance to become the chief minister. That is why he demolished the structures,” Reddy said.
Simhadri, president of the Telangana Samajwadi Party, said people have lost confidence in the KCR government for focusing on a “magnificent” building instead of the Covid-19 battle.
“We have been asking the government to convert the old secretariat into a Covid centre. Thousands of people could have been quarantined. It would have instilled confidence that the state government had people as their top priority. He won’t listen to anybody and does what he feels like,” Simhadri said.
Hyderabad-based Vastu expert Krishnacharan Bhargava said there was no need to tear down the whole secretariat.
“I don’t find anything wrong in the Vastu of the old building. Even if there were some issues like the south entrance, another entry could have been used. If the CM’s office was not Vastu compliant, he could have just changed the position of his table and seating. There was no need to spend crores of taxpayers’ money on a swanky new secretariat,” he said.
Keshava Rao, a leader of the ruling Telangana Rasthra Samithi, admitted that there was “some” criticism against razing down the secretariat. But asked why the government didn’t heed to the suggestion to first convert the old secretariat into a Covid centre, he said, “Now the decision has been taken and we are building a new structure to be able to work smoothly.”
Meanwhile, the state, which has faced allegations of under-reporting the extent of infection, has recorded 57,142 Covid cases and 480 deaths as of Thursday.
The new secretariat
The KCR government has roped in Chennai-based Oscar and Ponni Architects to construct a “majestic, Vastu-compliant and futuristic” seat of governance, which is going to be built over 7,000 lakh square feet. The design of the complex was finalised this month.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ponni M. Concessao, a partner in the firm, said the secretariat’s design is in accordance with Vastu Shastra. The main entry to it would be east facing with a separate entry for the chief minister. His main office would be located on the sixth floor, she said.
“We are looking at making the secretariat a beautiful structure that will be 50 years ahead of its time. We believe in sustainable principles of architecture with emphasis on natural sources of ventilation to reduce the carbon footprint,” she said.
“Eighty per cent of the land would be used for landscaping and on the rest of the 20 per cent, a six-floor building will be built — with priority given to Vastu and the present need of being Covid-free,” Ponni told ThePrint.
She said the culture and ethos of Telangana has been kept in mind. The building exterior is inspired by the Deccan Kakatiya architecture.
“The secretariat is an expression of democracy and architecture. We are showcasing the aspirations of the people of Telangana. The history of Telangana is very chequered. It is a young state with very ancient history and so we addressed two different parameters while conceptualising it,” she said.
On making it Covid-proof, the architect said the design has sustainable architecture with maximum use of natural elements of light and wind, use of anti-bacterial and anti-viral paints coupled with touch-less technology to operate systems.
“One major point of making a building Covid-proof is to reduce the use of air conditioning as closed spaces like that act as petri-dishes to culture bacteria and viruses,” she added.