As the Hyderabad metro cuts through Sultan Bazaar, the city has lost a part of its soul

The same KCR who had warned of bloodshed if the heritage market was touched before coming into power, inaugurated the stretch of the Hyderabad metro cutting right through it this week.
As the Hyderabad metro cuts through Sultan Bazaar, the city has lost a part of its soul
As the Hyderabad metro cuts through Sultan Bazaar, the city has lost a part of its soul
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It is the irony of the times we are living in that the Corridor-2 of the Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMR) that pierces through the historic Badi Chawdi and Sultan Bazaar was inaugurated by Telangana Chief Minister K Chadrasekhar Rao. When leading the movement for a separate state, KCR addressed a public meeting in Sultan Bazaar on June 17, 2011 and warned the then ‘Andhra’ leadership of bloodshed if it dares to touch these heritage markets.

Traders of Badi Chowdi, Sultan Bazaar, Kothi and Putlibowli, under a joint action committee (JAC) displayed fierce resistance to the metro going through their busy markets. From the last week of January 2011, they protested several times by shutting down shops, holding candle-light processions, vanta-varpu (cooking in public), and organising cultural activities etc. The resistance was so strong that the HMR and L&T were not even allowed to conduct soil tests in these markets for five years.

KCR addressing a meeting in Sultan Bazaar in 2011. Image: C Ramachandraiah

Sultan Bazaar is a heritage market known to have evolved for over 200 years and is part of the history of Hyderabad. It is the only market in Hyderabad which is completely pedestrian. It is the distinct aura and flavour of these areas that give a native and historic feel to the city. The Charminar, Golconda fort, Pathargatti market, MJ Market, Sultan Bazaar etc., are what give Hyderabad its identity in the same way as the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk, the Qutub Minar etc., do to Delhi.

The easily replicable and monoculture of IT towers, glitzy malls and multiplexes that are ubiquitous and mostly identical in several cities will definitely contribute to the much needed economic growth and employment generation. But, they cannot give uniqueness to the city, that the historic heritage precincts do. Worldwide, city authorities are taking measures to protect such heritage areas in their appearance and ambience.

After becoming Chief Minister, KCR announced in the Assembly that the metro rail would have to be diverted near Sultan Bazaar. That generated much hope in those markets. Much flowed in the media later on regarding the possible changes in alignments. In the subsequent months, a split was engineered between traders of Badi Chawdi and Sultan Bazaar who until then stood together like a rock.

This division was made possible with reports (deliberately spread by design, I believe) that the corridor-2 will take a diversion after Badi Chawdi and go through Koti Women’s college which would thereby avoid the Sultan Bazaar-Koti-Putlibowli stretch. Attempts by metro officials to draw markings in the college campus and protests by students appeared to confirm those reports.

When traders of Badi Chawdi observed a bandh on February 27, 2015 they were left alone with the others feeling ‘safe’ and not joining. The split became open. Then it was the turn of Sultan Bazaar. When traders here observed a bandh later, the Badi Chawdi traders did not join. The design worked.

Sultan Bazaar before the metro in March 2016. Image: Ramachandraiah

The HMR officials started negotiating with a minor section of traders in JAC, known to be supporters of a major opposition party, and claimed to have reached an agreement through a ‘special package’.

When Sultan Bazaar traders protested on November 27, 2015 against these tactics, they were in for a rude jolt. A large number of police were deployed, Section 144 was  imposed, and the protesters were arrested. It had never happened before. KCR’s government was in action. The soil testing works began in February 2016. Four years later, the metro rail which cuts right through the market, is inaugurated by KCR.

As someone who has closely followed the metro’s trajectory, I can say that sincere efforts were missing by the political leadership to save this Bazaar. We are living in times of mega infrastructure projects which the governments wants to publicise and a certain level of consent is manufactured around them.

They are big ticket and big money projects. The metro is an aspirational project -- its trains and stations are ‘sanitised’ spaces. In a society that suffers from a low self-esteem, and where people’s basic rights are abused and humiliated daily, these projects make it feel elevated. What they promise, what they damage and what they deliver are of no consequence.

Thus, after spending about Rs 21,000 crore (at the rate of Rs 300 crore per km), the metro’s ability to carry only about 4 lakh people or so a day should not be questioned. The fact that the metro promised to carry 15 lakh passengers in 2014, which should be about 19.7 lakh per day now, gets conveniently buried in the cleverness of its marketing.

Whereas the rickety Road Transport Corporation (RTC) buses that carry 30 lakh passengers a day, and always receiving a step-motherly treatment from the government, are looked down on. That there should be about 6000 buses plying in the city as against the present 3000 or so is of nobody’s concern.

When RTC asks for small favours the governments gives it a scornful look which is in contrast to its celebration of the metro. Metro represents the might of corporate and state power unlike the poor RTC. In a way it reflects today's consumerist and self-maximising attitude of the middle class and political class – veneration to the glitzy and mighty, and sneer at the weak.

Sultan Bazaar after the construction of the metro. Image: Ramachandraiah

As the metro chugs through the narrow Bazaar, and as the metro pillars occupy much of the narrow street like ugly warts on a pleasant face, the Jain Mandir remains a mute witness to the many protests including that of KCR’s ‘roar’ at the same spot.

It faces the prospect of slow crumbling down on its own due to the impact of vibrations of the metro as the gap between it and the metro viaduct is too narrow -- hardly a feet or so. While a very small section of the aspirational middle class ‘enjoys’ metro rides on this route, the historic city of Hyderabad has lost a part of its soul.

The author is Professor, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad. Views expressed are the author's own.

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