Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is a man in a hurry, hoping to meet a deadline. Top engineers of the state’s Road and Buildings (R&B) Department, whom he has tasked to build an imposing new state secretariat by Dussehra (October 5, 2022), are rushed off their feet too. Their work site is the 29.5 acre old Telangana secretariat complex. Ten blocks and 12 other small and big structures of the old complex, with a built-up area of over 900,000 square feet, were razed over a few days in July 2020; 14,000 truckloads of rubble taken away for recycling. From their war room—a 3,000 sq. ft security outpost, which is the last portion standing of the old complex—construction engineers track the 1,800-man team at work. Work began in November 2020, but the Covid pandemic delayed things. Considering the monumental task, a time overrun seems inevitable.
A model of the proposed Telangana secretariat
The mammoth, integrated secretariat complex, with state-of-the-art features, is KCR’s dream project. Till 2015, he hoped to build it on open land in the Secunderabad Cantonment, owned by the ministry of defence, and recoup the construction cost by selling the secretariat estate to potential developers. However, when the ministry asked for a stiff price, a determined KCR opted to pull down the existing structures in the old complex to make space.
However, heritage activists rue the demolition of the historic G block of the old Secretariat—the 137-year-old Saifabad Palace—and opacity in the entire process relating to building a major public utility. Built by Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan in 1885, the palace was the centre of administration of Hyderabad state; after Independence, the two-storeyed building with Corinthian columns, arches, teak-panelled interiors and an ornate staircase housed the offices of several Andhra Pradesh chief ministers. There have been several attempts to demolish it in the past, from the days N.T. Rama Rao was CM in the 1980s, points out architecture conservator Sajjad Shahid. When another such demolition plan surfaced and was challenged in court, the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2011 directed the government to go by the advice of the Heritage Conservation Commission (HCC), which recommended its conservation. Within years, there was another attempt to pull the palace down. “An expert from Rajasthan brought at the behest of then Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan to assess the building declared the palace was strong and that it should be preserved,” he says.
Apart from this, a 100-year-old stone building, which housed the electricity department offices, was also razed. Built over a century ago, it was earlier known as the Osmania Technical College.
The HCC was not reconstituted after its term expired. KCR turned a deaf ear to conservation and heritage activists too. “We have seen glistening granite and Rangoon teak being moved out and cement concrete going in,” says P. Anuradha Reddy, convenor, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), Telangana. On June 29, 2020, the Telangana High Court gave an order clearing the demolition of the G Block. The government demolition squad moved in soon.
Heritage activists bemoan the destruction of the 132- year-old secretariat and opacity in the development
As during the construction of the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme and the Lakshminarasimha Swamy temple, KCR has tracked the construction of the new secretariat closely. The design, based on his brief, is by Chennai-based architects Oscar and Ponni Concessao. It was finalised after several days of discussions and a workshop with the CM, where he discussed in detail the master planning, vaastu principles, site grading and floor zoning. KCR has been monitoring the construction closely. The new complex is marked by classical symmetry, with a large dome, and smaller ones flanking and foregrounding it, crowning the central block. Wings radiate outwards, with domes along its length mounted atop sections.
The exterior architectural character of the building is intended to reflect the diverse cultures of Telangana. The podium cladding, 15 feet high, is made of red sandstone; beige Dholpur stone from Rajasthan is used in the central tower. The domes are inspired by the temples and palaces of Telangana. “The design inspiration is twofold. One is the harmonious blend of Telangana’s architectural heritage. The other is Lord Shiva, with specific reference to the Neelakanteshwara temple near Hyderabad and the Wanaparthy Palace,” explains Ponni Concessao.
The entire complex will be fenced by 16-feet-high designer metal grills. The scale of the rectilinear building, 600 feet by 300 feet in dimension, and its seven floors, each 14 feet high, is imposingly monumental. The main entry is in the east, with an exclusive entrance and lift for the chief minister to take him to the topmost floor, where his large, glass-panelled office is in the southwest corner. A sky lounge below the central dome also showcases a 360-degree view of the Hussain Sagar Lake nearby and Hyderabad city.
Vaastu and modern technology
Accommodating KCR’s devout belief in vaastu principles posed challenges, which were resolved through on-site discussions, apparently without compromising on functional and security necessities. “We had to design the several spatial components and the facades, update drawings and present several options on a daily basis for almost two weeks,” recalls architect Oscar G. Concessao. KCR pored over the plans once or twice a week.
The distribution of entrances and service core areas, lifts, staircases, utility rooms, toilets and the directions all apparently adhere to the tenets of vaastu. For example, while all 106 assistant secretaries are eligible for an attached toilet in their offices, the number of these facilities has been reduced “to avoid imbalance”. Again, the building mostly adheres to the vaastu principle that a staircase should be ascended from east to west or from north to south, but this could not be followed in every instance, keeping in mind the functionality of the building.
While some building laws were modified to suit vaastu beliefs, the building will also have the latest technology
At ground zero, there is a central courtyard—the brahmasthanam—designed for proper ventilation and wind movement. More than half the 29.5 acre site will be landscaped with lawns and fountains, and gardens will be planted with local trees.
The secretariat will, of course, be equipped with latest technology: smart lighting controls with motion sensors, timers, automated switches, dimming controls and energy efficient equipment are being installed. Materials including granite, vitrified tiles, veneer wood paneling, metal and acoustic false ceilings, energy-efficient plumbing fixtures are being used for the interiors. Vitrified flooring will be used at all levels, except in the CM’s office and the entire sixth floor, which will have marble floors. Green building concepts are being implemented using eco-friendly materials with low embodied energy. The aim is to reduce artificial lighting and increase natural ventilation.
With the southwest corner, as per vaastu shastra, guaranteeing continuity, most ministers’ offices will be in that direction. The lower floors will accommodate meeting halls, waiting areas, the reception centre and record rooms. An exclusive conference room with a capacity to seat over 200 people, suitable for large administrative meetings with the CM, has been provided for. Besides this, every floor has three meeting halls for use by ministers and senior officials.
The lower ground floor has been designed for services and arrival lobbies, apart from entry and exit points. The building has an imposing entrance, with a three-storey-high arrival portico, while the atrium will have Telangana mural art and an LED wall showcasing development in the state.
The business of the secretariat is conducted through 29 administrative departments, each headed by a secretary with his support staff. Existing guidelines on per capita space allocation were modified to meet modern requirements in terms of working space and amenities. Fire tenders, parking, vehicular and pedestrian movement and external services such as hydrants, drainages, storm water flow and security installations are also provided for in a comprehensive manner. A terrain modelling technique was also employed to ensure inundation-free topography.
Planning, specifications and various estimates were made while meeting tendering deadlines. The R&B department ensured that every worker was fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and provided precaution doses on site.
Gleaming domes that emerge, one by one, over the secretariat perimeter screened by high walls and huge sheets that virtually veil the goings on, may suggest the building will be ready by Dussehra. But fabricating and erecting the 34 composite steel and cement domes and installing them with cranes is time-consuming and challenging. Nine domes are yet to be installed, including the two massive, 50-feet in diameter central domes, to be placed atop a 48-feet-long cylindrical drum at a height of 165 feet. For on-site construction engineers, it is a rare engineering experience—tying of the reinforcement, shuttering, back propping and laying concrete.
KCR, bowing to pressure, has agreed to build a temple and mosque, which existed in the old secretariat premises, anew. A church is also coming up. These and other utilities, like buildings for visitors, police, fire services and a crèche will come up in the area beyond the rectangular complex. The total cost is expected to rise from Rs 615 crore to over Rs 800 crore.
Though KCR believes a new state secretariat is a matter of pride for Telangana, political opponents say it is a misplaced priority and only panders to his self-image as being the sole builder of modern Telangana. They point out that his promise to move all state-level offices into the secretariat is impossible for want of space—the different directorates will continue to be outside the secretariat. A plan to put up another large building nearby with an underground tunnel connecting it to the secretariat is on the backburner.
Unfazed by such talk,KCR is eager to get the secretariat up and running by Sankranti in mid-January and move into this monumental seat of power before calling for an assembly election later in the year. It’s now a race to the finish in Hyderabad.