Why activists are going all out to save Hyderabad’s Victoria Zenana building

In a letter to to the Telangana High Court, an appeal has been made for a stay order on the planned demolition to enable citizens to seek legal recourse to protect the monument.

ByAjay Tomar

Published May 16, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdated May 16, 2023 | 9:00 AM

Victoria Zenana building

The historic Victoria Zenana building located on the eastern boundary of the Telangana High Court in Hyderabad is likely to be razed this month.

A multi-level car parking space for advocates is being planned at its location. The 118-year-old building also houses Hyderabad’s first hospital for women, the Victoria Memorial.

Heritage activists and conservationists wanted the structure on nine acres preserved for adaptive reuse. It should not be demolished, they demanded.

During a recent meeting at Hyderabad’s cultural centre, Lamakaan, activists decided to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the high court to protect the structure.

Sajjad Shahid of a Delhi-based non-profit, The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), wrote to the high court against the demolition.

“I appealed to the high court to put the demolition on hold till the court vacations are over so that the citizens could then seek legal remedies. Once demolished, nothing could be done,” Shahid told South First.

Also read: Hill Fort Palace, Zenana demolition: Telangana government targeting heritage buildings irks conservationists

No permission from HMDA

Citing a writ petition, Shahid claimed in the letter that the petition sought only the construction of parking and did not request the demolition of the Victoria Zenana building.

Victoria Zenana building.

Victoria Zenana building. (Syed Akbar/Twitter)

He also pointed out Regulation 13 of the 1981 zoning regulations, which prohibits anyone from altering, repairing or renovating a heritage building without the approval of the vice-chairman of the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA).

The vice-chairman should act upon the advice of the Heritage Conservation Committee to be appointed by the government.

However, Shahid claimed that “no written permission has been obtained from the HMDA vice-chairman” to demolish Victoria Zenana.

“No consultation with the Heritage Conservation Committee would have taken place before deciding to demolish and redevelop the space. The said committee’s term expired in 2013. It has not been reconstituted despite the directions of the high court in two separate judgements,” he added in the letter.

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Heritage cannot be de-notified

Listed as a Grade-II-B heritage building under the HMDA’s Regulation 13, the Victoria Zenana was de-notified via a 2010 MA&UD Ministry order, due to its dilapidated condition.

Hillfort palace and Zenana building demolition: Conservation architects frown upon Telangana government targeting heritage structures

A graphic of the heritage structures targeted by the Telangana government in the past years.

Shahid noted in the letter that a heritage building has special historical, aesthetic, architectural, and cultural value.

“It can never be de-notified merely because its original use has been discontinued, or it is in disrepair, or there is a more pressing need for developing an alternative use such as car parking,” Shahid said.

If the authorities went ahead with the plan, any heritage building or precinct could be de-notified.

Shahid also referred to a Qutub Shahi-era structure known as the “Dog Fountain”, which may also be demolished.

“What will happen to the fountain? Has the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) listed it? Under the ASI rules, once the fountain is dismantled, it should not be discarded. It should be conserved in a museum,” he had told South First.

He opined that the Telangana government does not understand heritage and culture. It has been demolishing heritage structures ever since coming to power in 2014.

Also Read: Osmania Hospital is caught between heritage and health

Parking facility will change land use

The high court premises, where the Victoria Zenana is located, is within the “Charminar Area”, notified as Heritage Precinct under the HMDA’s Regulation 13.

In the letter, Shahid pointed out that the Charminar Area was also demarcated as a heritage precinct in the government’s 2010 Revised Development Plan (Master Plan), which puts the usage of its land under the “Special Reservations Zone (SRZ)”.

The SRZ comprises heritage buildings and precincts, defense and military lands, bio-conservation zones, and others.

Referring to the SRZ, Shahid said that it is evident that the demolition of Victoria Zenana and redevelopment of the space as a multi-level car-parking facility would result in a change of land use without following the relevant legal procedure.

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Mark of identity

Noting that the destruction of heritage is irreparable, Shahid said that the collective identity of Hyderabad is built on the foundation of a shared culture, history, and heritage.

Victoria Zenana building

Victoria Zenana building. (Supplied)

“These structures are markers of identity,” he told South First earlier.

“The loss of heritage is an infringement of my fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as the collective rights of citizens of the city,” he wrote in the letter.

Shahid also brought it to the notice of the high court that generations have been born at Victoria General Hospital.

“They include those who have achieved high distinction such as a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court. ordinary people who treasure the memory of their, or their forbears, coming into this world in Victoria Zenana Hospital,” he said while concluding the letter.

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