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Osmania Hospital waits for a lifeline

Mallik Thatipalli | Updated on August 21, 2020 Published on August 21, 2020

Not just any building: Its striking features include 25-ft high ceilings which ensure sunlight and ventilation, one- metre-wide walls that keep heat at bay, and airy corridors   -  IMAGE COURTESY: VINAY KUMAR

The loss of a century-old hospital will rob Hyderabad of an architectural jewel

* A video clip, which spread like wildfire last month, caught knee-deep water that had entered the building

* After the video went viral, parts of the building were closed and patients shifted to other blocks

* Over the years, there have been reports about portions of the roof collapsing, or of water seeping into the building

It looked like a minor waterbody, except that it wasn’t. It was a case of severe waterlogging in the 100-year-old Osmania General Hospital (OGH) in Hyderabad. A video clip, which spread like wildfire last month, caught the knee-deep water that had entered the building. The visuals resulted in a huge brouhaha, with OGH alumni, activists and the public demanding that the heritage building be resuscitated.

One of the oldest hospitals in the country, Osmania is a premier government medical facility which treats almost one lakh patients a month. Named after the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, it is spread over 24.5 acres. The waterlogging inside the heritage precincts was unprecedented. After the video went viral, parts of the building were closed and patients shifted to other blocks. “The choking of the general drain near the facility and the laying of new roads without water outlets are the prime reasons for waterlogging and need to be immediately rectified,” says the medical superintendent, Dr B Nagendra.

The oldest part of the building, constructed in 1919, is the In-Patient block, which includes patient wards, nurses’ stations, offices and operation theatres. Its striking features include 25-ft high ceilings which ensure sunlight and ventilation, one-metre-wide walls that keep heat at bay and airy corridors.

But the building has often been caught in controversy. In 2015, a government move to demolish the building was put on the backburner after a huge public outcry against the decision. The government held that the building was unstable and wanted to build a new structure at the same location after razing the old one. Activists, however, say that the building can last for decades with minor repairs and load reduction.

Conservationists worry that the instance of waterlogging and the subsequent closure of the block may eventually lead to the structure being brought down. They fear that OGH may go the way of the Saifabad Palace. Built in the late 19th century as a palace for the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Khan, it was the centre of administration of the State of Hyderabad in the 1940s. After Independence, it was used as the government secretariat, but was demolished earlier this year to make way for what is being described as a state-of-the-art building.

History hall

OGH started out as the Afzal Gunj Hospital in 1866, but the current building was built in 1919 after the flooded Musi River devastated parts of Hyderabad in 1908. It was designed by Vincent Esch, the architect who also created the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata.

The hospital is famed for its fenestrations in the form of arches, masonry jalis and domes accentuating its elevation. As the building was located on the banks of the Musi, it was provided with a robust foundation to protect it from problems associated with riverfront development.

Steady decline

There was a time when the hospital was known far and wide. “Former President Shankar Dayal Sharma was treated here and former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao used to visit his [spiritual] guru, Ramanand Teerth, while he was admitted here,” recalls Dr Iqbal Jaweed, executive member of the Osmania Medical College Association.

The decline, he believes, began from the mid-’80s when private hospitals started coming up in the city, and patients started going there for treatment.

“Till 1985, an engineer from the roads and building department was posted inside the campus for its maintenance. Once the office was shifted, the decline began,” he says, adding that the building had not been given a fresh lick of paint for 35 years.

Over the years, there have been reports about portions of the roof collapsing, or of water seeping into the building. Rainwater entered the premises in July due to a combination of factors: The storm drain getting clogged, blocking of water outlets due to later constructions and unauthorised structures which have come up around the building hindering water flow.

Anuradha Reddy, convener, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), Hyderabad, who evaluated the building in 2015 and 2019 for the conservation group, notes that when it was constructed, care was taken to ensure that excess water entered from the back of the complex, and then drained out through the gardens into the Musi. “The topography of the land ensures this. Subsequent constructions obstructed the flow of water and that needs to be rectified,” she says.

Senior cardiologist Sudhir Naik, who has been associated with OGH for 60 years, stresses the importance of renovation and refurbishment. “Till date, the central oxygen supply in this building is the best. Osmania is a time-honoured reservoir of superb doctors and a culture of excellence. There is a pressing need to preserve it. The city without its history is like a body without a soul.”

“Why is any heritage building important? Why is the heritage of Hyderabad important? Why are Golconda and Charminar important,” Reddy asks. “The answers are implied. It is irrelevant who has built it [the heritage building] and why; they have become our history. They become the memory of the activities and achievements of the people of Telangana.”

Unless urgent steps are taken, the city — and the country — will lose a part of its heritage. “The building needs a dermatological facelift,” says Jaweed. “It needn’t be put on a ventilator.”

Mallik Thatipalli is journalist based in Hyderabad

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Published on August 21, 2020
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