Destroying the Bison Polo: Does Telangana really need a new Secretariat?

Hyderabad is in dire need of common spaces like grounds, parks and lakes, and the government must understand that.
Destroying the Bison Polo: Does Telangana really need a new Secretariat?
Destroying the Bison Polo: Does Telangana really need a new Secretariat?
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In 1991, Sid Meier launched the first version of his video game, Civilization. It used to be a delight to play the game with young children as it taught what one would have to do to develop a community or a city – the need for commons like parks, water bodies, places to store grain, places to play, learn, experience the arts, and worship.

What is evident from the Telangana government’s recent actions – like the attempt to take over the Bison Polo Grounds for building the new Secretariat complex – is that it does not understand how good cities are built, which even a kid who has played Civilization would perhaps know better.

When Telangana state was being demanded, the most identified needs of the people were educational institutions, health facilities and employment opportunities. If anything, it was soon realised that Telangana was in a position of great advantage as it had the entire administrative infrastructure in place – secretariat, assembly, and the law and order infrastructure, which would leave it free to concentrate on essential demands of the people.  

This was not the case with Andhra Pradesh. AP had to start from scratch to acquire land and build suitable infrastructure to house the capital city and the new state’s administrative structures.

Telangana, however, has not used this huge advantage of having surplus resources to rapidly strengthen education, health, urban and rural roads and amenities to transform the fortunes of the state.

What instead has happened over the last three years of this government in power is an illustration of what happens when political parties are developed around the perceived power of a single individual and not on a common vision for the future. The power centre’s malaises such as unshakeable superstitions, and reliance on religious gurus for advice has set back Telangana’s fortunes by another decade.

There has been an insistence on vacating the existing Secretariat complex from the day this government has assumed power. It is not known what they propose to do with the existing land and buildings if the new Secretariat is built elsewhere. Now the plan seems to have expanded to include the Assembly and Ravindra Bharati as well.  And the new Assembly will be a replica of the old one?

And no one knows how the historical structures will be used. Will they be demolished and real estate auctioned? These structures reflect the personality, the political-cultural heritage, of the city. In no great city anywhere in the world is such predatory destruction of heritage allowed by a one-term government that is elected for 5 years.

What are the limits of powers vested with an elected government? Does it have the mandate to sell off Secretariat and Public Gardens lands without any restraint? If they put these ideas in their manifesto, would they get elected? Before elections, they promised that they would not allow the metro rail to pass in front of the Assembly as it would disfigure the historical structure. Now, the metro is allowed and the Assembly itself is being threatened.

The cantonment area in Secunderabad is also historical and is far better maintained than Hyderabad. There too pressure is on to take away land. First, Parade Grounds was targeted. Now, the Bison Polo/Gymkhana grounds. The argument put forth is that there are other stadia in the city, which are not being used.

Two questions arise from this claim: are children from Indira park area and Secunderabad supposed to go to Gachibowli, Jubilee Hills, and Uppal to the unused stadia every time they want to play? Why is the government not creating training facilities at these stadia and encouraging better use of the facilities instead of letting them fall to disuse?

Hyderabad has produced a wide variety of sports stars because of a healthy interest of the people in sports. Children and parents are looking for better infrastructure. Whether it is the grounds at Osmania University, NTR stadium or Parade Grounds, Gymkhana grounds or any other open space in neighbourhoods, on a holiday one can see thousands of young people playing all kinds of games. Many a talent is spotted from these spaces of joy.

There has been a systematic effort by land sharks to encroach on neighbourhood parks, school grounds, lake-beds for haphazard development of ugly commercial constructions with full cooperation of the municipal administrations under successive governments. While some people have grown rich and powerful, the city has been bereft of common spaces like sports grounds, parks and lakes.

Playing the game Civilization, version one, along with grandchildren is highly recommended for people in power for this reason. Every area in a city requires a set of common facilities that are located on common land – a water body, a school, a sports ground/recreational space, places of worship. It contributes to civilizational advancement by providing safe spaces in the neighbourhood to discover one’s potential.

The existing office space in Secretariat may not be up to the global standards, but is definitely good enough. But the condition of existing government schools and hospitals do not match any standards, global or local. Instead of improving them, the state has been trying to close nearly 5000 schools, depriving thousands of young children of safe neighbourhood schools. To neglect infrastructure that can actually benefit a large number of general public, and instead to indulge in extravagant expenditure to show off to foreign investors or to have an easy ride home, is to betray the voters’ trust.

The governments and the elected legislators cannot only concentrate on spending the state’s resources on themselves. As it is, by being in the nucleus of power, they have privileged access to all resources. YSR built a camp office and KCR built another one. How have these extravagances contributed to the betterment of common people?

The bureaucracy, instead of kowtowing to the elected leaders must play a constructive role in questioning the self-serving profligacy of leaders. During the Badi Bata programme last year, several of us went to visit government schools in Medak district (before the division of the districts). We made a list of problems being faced by the schools in the district and went to submit it to a senior bureaucrat.

When we met him and told him the reason for our visit, he began to enumerate the specific problems being faced by each school, on his own, and went on to tell us that the small amounts of resources required for fixing these problems were promised by the government. However, a year later, no money has been released. If a senior bureaucrat begins to speak like an activist, can we see it as an early sign of challenge to the reign of the barbarians?

Note: Views expressed are the author's own.

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