In the midst of a pandemic, the old secretariat could have been used for institutional quarantine, say critics
After getting clearance from Telangana High Court for construction of a new secretariat, the Telangana government began razing the old building complex in Hyderabad on Tuesday.
Chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) had first announced his plans to build a new secretariat in January 2015. It was only in June 2019 that KCR had laid the foundation stone for a new secretariat in the existing complex and assembly building at Errum Manzil. The project cost is Rs 500 crore.
As cases piled up, the High court stayed the demolition of the building. On June 29 when the court gave clearance, the government acted swiftly and began demolition of the old secretariat complex on July 07 to pave the way for construction of a new building.
But on July 10, three days after the state government began demolition, the Telangana High Court issued an interim stay till Monday after a petition filed by professor PL Vishweshwar Rao and Dr Cheruku Sudhakar.
Talking to The Lede, professor PL Vishweshwar Rao said, “I have filed a petition a year ago asking about the background (expert committee, technical note, architect committee) for cabinet taking a decision on construction of a new secretariat. For this, I got a two-line reply that cabinet has decided to construct a new secretariat with a Rs 500 crore budget.
Telangana has emerged as a poor state in terms of education and child labour among other sectors. At the time I filed the petition, Rs 400 crore was pending for many welfare schemes like fees reimbursement, Arogyasree and many more. Our arguments over this went on for one year,” he said.
“Ten days ago when the stay was lifted, within a few days, the government started the demolition work without considering the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016. These mandate how they have to take care of the environment, protection and pollution.
Without taking any permissions, the government started the demolition and the state which has spent only 0.8% in the health sector is in a hurry to construct the new building without taking the present health situation into criteria that demolition may affect many asthmatic patients and patients suffering from COVID-19. Based on these arguments I got a stay on July 10,” he said.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president N Uttam Kumar Reddy said the party had been opposing the secretariat demolition right from the beginning because many of the buildings in the secretariat are quite new and have a life of another 50 years.
“When resources are so scarce, it is foolishness to demolish a fully functional building and rebuild a new one because of one individual’s (KCR’s) superstitious belief that has rubbed off on a state. Secretariat could have been used as a quarantine facility,” said Uttam Kumar.
KCR, who is a firm believer in Vaastu and astrology, from his first stint as a chief minister chose to run the government from his bungalow-cum-office at Begumpet and visited the old Secretariat as the chief minister only a few times after he was told the complex had "Vastu-Dosha".
Backing the government, Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader M Krishank says - “Telangana government has, very much in advance, built special hospitals like TIMS by turning a sports complex into a COVID hospital and we have turned many medical colleges and railway bogies as isolation centres for treating COVID patients. Presently we have 90% vacant beds in government hospitals to face this pandemic situation. Then why does everyone want a secretariat to be used as an isolation center?” he asked.
“We request the opposition parties not to club both the situations. When our prime minister Modi systematically unlocked the nation, he clearly said that state governments can continue welfare, administrative activity while simultaneously fighting the battle. It is unfortunate and hilarious to see opposition parties like the BJP criticising us. Where the government of India is continuing its Rs 20,000 crore central Vista project which has a new parliament building plan,” added Krishank.
Every state is doing their administrative work and simultaneously dealing with the pandemic. This secretariat plan was developed years ago which got delayed by the opposition party petitions, said Krishank.
Telangana is a newly formed state. The idea behind a new secretariat, according to the government, is to bring all bureaucrats and public representatives under one roof.
During his first stint as chief minister, KCR wanted to construct a new secretariat at the historical Bison Polo Grounds but this did not yield any result as there was no response from former Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman or Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
When KCR returned to power for the second time, he decided to build a swanky new building where the old Secretariat currently sits.
Speaking about the current situation political analyst and former MLC Professor K Nageshwar Rao told The Lede - “Though it is right to build a new secretariat, this is not the right time or situation to do this. Government is undergoing a serious financial crunch due to lockdown. Now their main aim should be in dealing with COVID by creating good health facilities. That should be the single biggest priority of the government. In this pandemic situation demolishing a building and creating an asset which is not necessary for the current situation is definitely questionable,” he said.
“The government could have waited for a few more months until this pandemic fades out and then made their move. Meanwhile, they could have used it for institutional quarantine. Now the government is promoting home isolation and home quarantine for people who are asymptomatic and have mild symptoms. But home isolation is a luxury for people who are above the middle class or for those who live in two-bedroom apartments.
“Presently the government is facing a problem with the spread of COVID which is happening due to lack of proper home quarantine. This could have been solved by using secretariat. Hospitals are meant for COVID patient treatments. People who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms don’t need any treatment. In fact, keeping these people with COVID patients will make them prone to infections,” said Professor Rao.
“I know that there are many options which can be used for COVID but going forward we don’t know the effect of this pandemic so we can't lose the present options before us,” he said.