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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Explained: Why heritage activists are opposing demolition of Osmania General Hospital

The iconic OGH building is over 150 years old and is considered a heritage structure. The last Nizam of Hyderabad Osman Ali Khan had commissioned the hospital built on 26.5 acres of land abutting the river Musi, and it was designed by British architect Vincent Jerome Esch.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala , Edited by Explained Desk | Hyderabad | Updated: August 3, 2020 1:11:29 pm
Heritage activists want the main building of Osmania General Hospital to be repaired and preserved, and a new hospital constructed around it.

The Telangana government has proposed to demolish the iconic Osmania General Hospital (OGH) building and construct a new, modern hospital in its place. Heritage activists, however, have opposed the move saying the government should preserve the main building as it is part of Hyderabad’s heritage. The activists have suggested that other buildings can be demolished and existing vacant land can be used to build a new hospital.

Why has the government proposed to demolish a hospital amid the pandemic?

Last week, as heavy rainfall lashed Hyderabad, the ground floor general wards of OGH were flooded due to water seepage from the roof as well as a choked underground storm water drain system. Visuals of patients sitting on beds while the ward was filled with ankle deep water went viral triggering outrage among health professionals, citizens and politicians.

Parts of the ceiling of the hospital have also been giving way for the past several years. Amidst this outrage, the government announced that the OGH building will be demolished and a new one constructed. Two days after the announcement, rain water flooded the empty wards forcing the government to seal the building. All the patients were shifted to wards in other buildings within the complex. “The main OGH building is not in use anymore,” Dr Ramesh Reddy, Director of Medical Education, said.

Why are activists opposed to the demolition?

The iconic OGH building is over 150 years old and is considered a heritage structure. The last Nizam of Hyderabad Osman Ali Khan had commissioned the hospital built on 26.5 acres of land abutting the river Musi, and it was designed by British architect Vincent Jerome Esch.

The three-storey building was completed in 1925 and is regarded as a classic example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture with the third floor having Jack Arch roof. The building has a grand dome on its central tower with smaller cupolas and domed pavilions on its corners and stair wells. Located at Afzal Gunj, the building is part of the city’s heritage and skyline.

Heritage activists want the main building to be repaired and preserved, and a new hospital constructed around it. “A heritage building can co-exist with new health infrastructure. OGH building is part of our history and culture. We must preserve it. The building is protected under Regulation 13 of Hyderabad Urban Development Authority Zoning Regulations. It is also protected under regulations of Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority. It is graded a II-B Heritage Building in Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Association (HMDA) Listing and is protected under the Heritage Regulations of HMDA,” says INTACH Convenor Anuradha Reddy.

In 2015, INTACH conducted a structural, stability and safety study and presented a comprehensive report when the hospital was under threat of demolition.

The OGH building was constructed after the Afzal Gunj Hospital which was built in 1886 was washed away during the floods of 1908. When it was known as Afzal Gunj Hospital, the first international trials of chloroform were conducted here between 1888 and 1891 in a block now known as Chloroform Building. Apart from the iconic main building of OGH, there was an exclusive nursing staff quarters so that nurses can stay in the premises itself and do not go out and spread any infection.

There was another building reserved for hospital laundry. All three blocks were demolished after 1956 to make way for new hospital blocks and to create more parking space. Most of the new blocks were built after 1956 to create additional facilities. Activists are urging the government to demolish other non-heritage structures in the OGH premises to build a new hospital but to preserve the main building which occupies just 1 acre of the total 26.5 acres.

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Was there a proposal earlier to demolish the structure?

As parts of the ceiling collapsing and water leaks became more frequent, there was a proposal in 2015 to build a new hospital. INTACH, which had conducted an inspection in 2015 and 2019, opposed the demolition. The Heritage Conservation Committee proposed that the government construct a new hospital behind the OGH building. It suggested that the old OGH should be repaired and renovated and preserved.

In 2015, INTACH conducted a structural, stability and safety study and presented a comprehensive report when the hospital was under threat of demolition. Experts summarized that the conservation of the heritage building should be based on Heritage Conservation principles. In 2019, after another inspection, INTACH concluded that OGH Heritage Building is structurally safe and can be made safe for another century, barring any natural and human interventions, if properly maintained after repairs, restoration and retrofitting.

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What do heritage conservation activists want?

Several activists have started an online petition to save the heritage structure. They are also demanding that the government seal the main OGH building and ensure that no one in allowed inside to prevent any further damage. Along with the construction of a new hospital building, activists are demanding that the government invest in restoration and preservation of the heritage building.

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