In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, on 15 July, a general ward in Hyderabad’s 95-year-old Osmania General Hospital was flooded with ankle-deep water following heavy rainfall. Videos of the flooding soon began circulating on social media, showing hospital staff desperately pushing water out as packets of personal protective equipment floated nearby. Thirty patients from the inundated wards were shifted to another ward on the second floor of the already packed hospital, after state-response teams arrived.
Osmania hospital is one of the only tertiary hospitals in old city, home to nearly half of Hyderabad’s total population. The Telangana government’s various failures in dealing with the pandemic, including its low testing rate and the underreporting of cases, are likely more pronounced in the old city, which is poorer and more densely populated. Despite this, on 25 July, the state government said it would begin a consultation process with legislators to order the demolition of the Osmania General Hospital.
The hospital is a historical landmark and a key feature of the architecture of the old city. I have grown up all over the world and currently live in New York, but I have returned to Hyderabad nearly every year of my life. In each visit, there is one sight I know I can rely on to greet me on my approach to the old city: the cascading domes of the regal Osmania General Hospital on the banks of the Musi river. Like the hospital, many of Hyderabad’s most important landmarks date back to the reign of the city’s last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. The Nizam has left an indelible imprint on Hyderabad, whose streets were a maze of Indo-Saracenic architecture that gave the city its distinctive identity. With the progressive erasure of its Nizamate past falling into disrepair, the past century has not been kind to this heritage. Recent governments have furthered this process by frequently demolishing buildings of this era for infrastructure or out of a short-sighted reimagining of the identity of the city.
The Telangana government’s attempt to demolish Osmania hospital is part of a larger trend of attempting to architecturally modernise Hyderabad at the cost of the city’s rich heritage and history. The government has frequently argued that giving the city an architecturally modern image would attract foreign investment. In 2016, following his first victory in the Hyderabad municipal corporation polls, K Chandrashekar Rao—the state’s chief minister and head of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti—gave a speech about attracting investment for infrastructure that would make Hyderabad “truly a global city.” This vision has been central to Rao’s plans for Hyderabad. However, in doing so, the government has ignored—or expedited—the erosion of the city’s cultural and historical identity.
On 7 July, Rao had another historical landmark, the 132-year-old Saifabad Palace—which was a part of the secretariat complex—demolished without warning in the middle of the night. Many of these demolitions were not because the buildings were structurally unsound, but because of the government’s desire to placate the powerful construction and real estate lobbies of the city.